Door is open, but chances still limited SHOOTING FOR EQUALITY

December 22, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

About the time that Kisha Ford was born in Baltimore 17 years ago, Agnus Berenato was a senior on her high school basketball team in Gloucester, N.J. Berenato wanted to continue playing in college, but most schools weren't giving athletic scholarships to women.

"I went and played in Europe," Berenato said. "That was just a freak thing. Someone asked me if I wanted to. I knew I wasn't going to go to college because there weren't any scholarships and we didn't have any money."

Seventeen years later, as head coach of the Georgia Tech women's basketball team, Berenato signed Kisha Ford to a full scholarship to play basketball for the Yellow Jackets. A senior at Bryn Mawr, Ford is arguably the best female high school basketball player in Baltimore.

However, Ford's view of her place in history is more pragmatic than idealistic.

"I look at basketball as like a job," she said. "If I was to work and pay for college, it's like I'm working on the court to pay for college. You're working really hard to get an education at a top school that will pay top dollar for you."

Today, young girls can run, jump, shoot baskets, swim and aspire to be athletes with national and international attention, just as boys do.

But their chances to spin their athletic abilities into professional opportunities -- in playing, coaching or sports administration -- still are limited.

The chances for women in athletics never have been better, thanks to Title IX, the 20-year-old legislation that prevents gender discrimination by educational institutions.

Last year, nearly 1.9 million young women took part in high school sports across the country, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That's six times the number of high school girls who played sports 20 years ago.

Of the 864 schools in the NCAA, only a couple don't offer intercollegiate sports for women. There are also some professional opportunities available for women athletes, mostly in tennis and golf.

"It's no longer an odd thing," said Peggy Kellers, director of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports. "It's not that tomboy image that was perceived 25 years ago. There is indeed a great respect for the girls and women and for their abilities as athletes."

But there's still a long way to go.

* The number of boys who take part in high school sports, an estimated 5.2 million, is more than double the number of girls.

* The NCAA did a study on gender equity in March that found women made up only 31 percent of the average athletic population, even though they account for more than 50 percent of the overall student population at Division I schools.

* Locally, the University of Maryland has been forced to raise scholarships to women athletes by 6 percent and address inequities in locker room facilities and in secretarial and clerical services as a part of a Title IX complaint filed against it in 1990.

* Nationally, women received 30 percent of scholarship money, 23 percent of travel and game budgets and 17 percent of recruiting funds, according to recent surveys in the Chronicle of Higher Education and USA Today.

"We're talking tens of millions of dollars that just haven't been available to women," said Ellen Vargyas, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, which has pursued a number of Title IX complaints.

The surveys, covering the 1990-91 academic year, indicate that athletic departments across the country spend twice as much on men's programs as on women's.

At Virginia, for instance, the athletic department spent three times more money on men's basketball recruiting than on women's basketball recruiting. However, the men's basketball team brought in just over $1 million in ticket receipts, compared with about $133,000 for the women's program in 1991-92.

"It's a real travesty that inequalities in athletic education are overlooked," said Mariah Burton Nelson, a former basketball player at Stanford and author of "Are We Winning Yet: How Women Are Changing Sports and Sports Are Changing Women."

"If only a third of the kids in the English classes were female and females were not offered as many opportunities to study English, there would be lots of hullabaloo about it," Nelson said.

A true 'old boy' network

Once their playing careers end, the future for women who wish to continue in athletics isn't promising.

Women have a hard time finding jobs as athletic administrators and coaches. Among the 49 public high schools in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties, only six have women running the athletic departments.

Anne Arundel and Carroll counties have no female athletic directors.

In Baltimore County, however, 17 of the 21 public high schools have separate departments for boys and girls, and the girls departments are all run by women.

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