Shortages penalize city's female student-athletes

October 16, 1990|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Evening Sun Staff

The pool at Dunbar High should be filled with girls learning to swim. Instead, the pool sits empty because the school's only qualified swim instructor, a woman, was transferred to another city school -- one that doesn't have a pool.

At Southern High, the girls' softball team trudges a mile to practice on a field where rocks sometimes surface. Meanwhile, the boys' baseball team rides to practice in a bus.

In Baltimore County, high school girls play field hockey, soccer and lacrosse. City high schools offer none of those sports, but did add table tennis during the 1989-90 school year.

A girls' basketball official says that, on occasion, she has had to ,, scrounge to find a decent ball for a game between two city high school teams, and umpires have had to use their own softballs at girls' games because the home team had none.

In interviews with 40 coaches, athletic directors, teachers and others close to the situation in city public high schools, The Evening Sun was told that the girls' sports program is struggling on. But it lags behind boys' sports, in terms of emphasis and resources, and must leap many hurdles erected mostly by increasingly tight school budgets.

"I feel badly for females in city schools," says Brenda Gelston, commissioner of the Baltimore Board of Officials, which supplies referees for high school sports.

"There are as many good athletes here as in any system in the state, but they don't have the opportunity to develop or thrive or get many scholarships. They have no opportunity to develop self-esteem through sports.

"I grew up poor, and high school athletics gave me the motivation to say, 'I can be somebody someday.' "

Among the hurdles faced by the girls' sports program:

* Teams often must settle for second best in uniforms, equipment and other essentials.

* Girls have fewer sports to choose from than boys at the same city school -- or girls in county high schools.

* Many girls' teams are coached by men who can't have the same role-model effect as women, and there are few women in power positions to fight for girls' sports.

* Athletic budgets at the 16 high schools are so tight that a boost to bring the girls' program into line would mean slashing the boys' program below the bare bones.

* There are few female physical education teachers to inspire girls to go out for teams, and overall the physical education program falls short in preparing girls for athletics.

"Many of our girls don't even know how to jump rope," says Arlene Scott, a physical education teacher at Southwestern High.

Nor do they seem excited to learn.

"Many girls come to high school with a negative idea of physical education," says Evelyn Johnson, who retired in June as athletic director at Forest Park High. "It's tough to get girls to dress, to participate. You explain something to them in class and they sneak back down to the locker room the moment your back is turned."

The school system has not put enough emphasis on girls' teams, according to many leaders in the sports program.

"What we do with women's athletics [in Baltimore schools] is embarrassing and appalling," says Roger Wrenn, athletic director at Patterson High. "Girls' soccer is the fastest growing .. sport in America on the high school level, but [the city doesn't] have it, or contemplate having it."

The empty pool at Dunbar High rankles Carmie (Pete) Pompey, the school's athletic director. "The girls would be taking swimming right now if we hadn't lost the only phys-ed teacher qualified to teach it," says Pompey.

At Southern High, the 20-minute hike to practice discourages some girls from playing softball, says coach Jack Nehmsmann. "We could probably get more girls out for the team if we had a bus," he says.

Referees are sometimes confounded by the condition of equipment used by girls' teams in the city. "We've sent umpires to games where the home team had no softballs," says Gelston '' of the Baltimore Board of Officials. "One umpire went to his car and got softballs of his own."

"Sometimes we've had to go through the ball racks of both teams to find a good game ball," says Barbara Day, a basketball referee who officiates high school games in the city.

The Baltimore situation is disturbing but not atypical of problems in other major cities, says Larry Hawkins, president of the Institute for Athletics and Education, based in Chicago.

"Educators don't see sport as important; they see it as a frill. Well, high school sport in the inner city is not a frill," says Hawkins, a former Harlem Globetrotter.

"If a girl gets involved in sports early on, she is three times more likely to graduate than her classmates. Kids involved in high school sports are 90 per cent less likely to be involved in drugs."

Hawkins also suggests that athletics help curb teen pregnancy, perhaps because praise from a coach boosts a teen's self-esteem.

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