Gymnastics Grievance a Real Stretch HOWARD COUNTY

July 29, 1993

It's easy to sympathize with the parents who have rallied to save high school gymnastics as an interscholastic sport in Howard County. But they are grasping at straws when they accuse the school system of discriminating against girls by eliminating the program. The grievance they filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights should win them little more than the satisfaction of saying they tried.

Fact is, the Howard system has an exemplary record on providing opportunities for female students to participate in sports. It has one of the best records in Maryland, with females representing 42 percent of all students involved in interscholastic sports. While it is true that males continue to dominate in this area, the school system provides females with an equal number of sports from which to choose.

What the parents fighting for gymnastics fail to mention is that theirs is not the only program being cut by school officials. Golf, a male-dominated sport, also felt the ax. Both programs fell victim to hard economic times, and of the available options, theirs seemed the most logical to eliminate.

School officials said they considered the costs and participation rates in deciding to cut both sports. Gymnastics, with 111 students participating, had the additional burden of carrying huge potential liability costs. Golf, in which 61 students were active, was eliminated in part because transportation costs included limousine service for four students from Glenelg High to practices at local golf courses. Cab companies do not service the Glenelg area and school buses were deemed too expensive.

There are other options in the private sector for students to be trained in gymnastics or coached in golf, although we realize they carry an extra expense. Nonetheless, the public schools cannot be expected to furnish every activity in which students might have an interest. If that were true, swimming -- with its huge following in Columbia -- would be among the interscholastic offerings.

There is no question that much work remains to bring about equity in interscholastic sports. A better case could be made by looking at the disparity in funds spent for male and female athletics. But trying to prove that sexism was a factor in eliminating gymnastics will be next to impossible given the system's enviable track record.

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