Double sports standard

October 19, 1990

Women athletes in Baltimore don't get a fair shake from the city public schools. In his examination this week of the disparity between men's and women's athletic programs in city schools, The Evening Sun's Mike Klingaman found that in virtually every sport, girls' programs lag behind those of boys.

The result is that girls' teams have to make do with second-rate uniforms, equipment and other essentials. Girls have fewer sports to choose from than boys at the same school -- or girls in county high schools. A shortage of female physical education teachers often means there is no one to inspire girls to go out for teams or take a serious interest in athletics.

The dire straits of women's athletics in the city schools is symptomatic of a system that is starved for resources in almost every area, from textbooks to toilet paper, and that must try to provide instruction to some of the state's most disadvantaged youngsters with only a fraction of the funds devoted to education in the state's wealthier subdivisions.

Even more insidious, however, is the suggestion in the comments of some school administrators that girls' athletics are somehow less important -- because girls aren't as "interested" in sports as boys. Such claims support charges by female physical education teachers that school sports are dominated by a "males first" mentality -- a reflection of the fact that men still hold most of the top decision-making posts in athletics programs. As a result, girls get short shrift in the allocation of scarce resources, and the presumption that they are less motivated than boys to participate in sports becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

School athletics programs are an important tool for reaching out to at-risk youngsters -- girls as well as boys -- and encouraging them to stay in school. In a city with epidemic levels of teen-age pregnancy, there is a special need to find ways to keep both girls and boys involved in school activities. Sports serve that purpose. But it won't happen until school administrators confront this double sports standard, which is based on stereotypes and rationalized by tight budgets. The result is a waste of young female talent that this city and its schools can ill afford.

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