The last public high school in Baltimore to get glass backboards in its gymnasium received them last year.
The school? Western High, the lone all-girls school in the city.
Western lobbied for years for glass backboards, seeking the same modern equipment as Baltimore's 15 coed schools. Western even tried unsuccessfully to requisition the backboards from Eastern High when that school closed in 1986.
Three years later, the city acquiesced. However, Western officials say the new glass backboards they received were an inferior brand, and they were installed crooked and at the wrong height.
Eva Scott, Western's athletic director, is resigned to such headaches.
"We're an all-girls school," she says.
In interviews with 40 coaches, athletic directors and educators in city public high schools, The Evening Sun was told that the girls' sports program suffers because its teams often must settle for second best in equipment and facilities.
But athletic budgets at the schools are so tight that a special boost for the girls would slash the boys' program, especially football, below the bare bones.
"I know football is a terrible drain on the budget, but you don't want to drop football to subsidize something else," says Donna Boller, a phys-ed teacher at Patterson High. "There just isn't any money for athletics. Or books. Or teachers."
The high schools' total budget for athletic supplies is decreasing, while the cost of protective gear for contact sports has risen dramatically. In 1978, when the city schools divided a $120,000 pot, a football helmet sold for $40. Today, the overall athletic budget is less than $110,000, while the same helmet has tripled in price.
"It's very difficult to shave money off the football budget because there is too much risk of injury," says Dave Lang, athletic director at Southwestern High. It can cost $250 to outfit one player, he says. "Football alone eats up nearly 40 percent of our budget, so all other sports are shortchanged."
However, Lang concedes that female athletic directors probably distribute funds more evenly at their schools than men do, because of the women's ties with "minor" sports. "Women understand the value of those sports and tend to champion them more than many men do," says Lang.
Just three of the 16 athletic directors at city high schools are women. One of them, Mabel Wilson of Lake Clifton High, says some of her male peers treat girls' teams unfairly.
"Some men just hear the cries of the men's coaches, and put the women aside. You can see it in some of the girls' uniforms," says Wilson. "I've seen players wearing 'badminton' uniforms in which a T-shirt is worn over a track uniform, plus a pair of shorts. I cringe when I see a girls' team come out looking bad."
"If the girls look good, they will have more pride in themselves."
Some badminton teams looked "tacky" last year, recalls Evelyn Johnson, who retired this year as athletic director at Forest Park High. "Their clothes looked like leftovers from other sports."
Nancy Havranek, a coach at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical, says that some teams from other schools lack proper uniforms and look "pathetic."
"The shirts and shorts don't match," Havranek says. "We won't send our kids out looking like mismatched waifs."
Shabby uniforms aren't commonplace, says Jessica Ivey, a phys-ed teacher at City College. "The teams that look tattered aren't typical," she says.
For instance, at Lake Clifton, the girls' basketball, volleyball and softball teams all received new uniforms in the past two years. "I think our girls are among the best-dressed teams around," says Wilson, who says it is "possibly" because she is a female athletic director.
But most of the athletic directors are men, and "some of them still think the boys should take precedence," says Art Milburn, the athletic director at Northwestern High.
"It's a man's world," says Harrietta Wallace, athletic director at Walbrook High. "The girls' program is shortchanged equipment-wise, and sometimes in the availability of space to practice."
In her first year coaching basketball at Mervo, Havranek found the boys' team literally running her team off the court before the girls' workout was over.
"We started the season with the girls never having run full-court in practice," she says. But Havranek lobbied loudly for fair play, and now practices run smoothly.
BOYS GET PRIORITY
Nonetheless, female coaches say such inequities still occur. Arlene Scott, who coaches basketball and tennis at Southwestern High, says boys' teams at some other schools get priority in terms of practice time. Facilities for minor sports are literally disintegrating, she adds. "Our tennis courts are horrible, cracked, with grass protruding. They haven't been resurfaced for years."
"I would regularly get complaints that the girls were not getting as much as the boys," says Joni Scholwin, whose role as specialist for athletics and physical education in city schools was abolished in 1989.