Girls Basketball: Students and School Must Do More
Title IX is an article of the education amendments of 1972. More specifically, Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any program that receives federal funding. This law especially applies to school sports, with many rules in place to prevent special treatment of any one gender over the other. There are quite a few ethical and equitable issues like lack of fan support, promotion and funds which could be perceived as a violation of Title IX, but aren’t legally classified as such.
Addison Brugh, girls varsity basketball player, said “They [boys basketball team] have two locker rooms, while the girls only have one… the girls always have to ask for the spotlight at home games, while the boys get it automatically…the girls barely have a student section and there are no student section themes for girls games.”
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect her spot on the team, shared very specific examples from her experience. “Last year we had a double header with the boys… During this game we didn’t get the national anthem or a spotlight for the starting five, we were essentially treated like the JV team. We also had to basically beg to get the spotlight for our starting five, while the boys always got it without asking. Another thing that happened last year is that during a regular season game for the boys, during pregame they projected this really cool hype video on the floor of the gym. We’ve never had anything like that and I'm not sure if we ever will.”
MHS students and the athletic office play an equal role in issues pertaining to the differentiation of treatment between the two basketball teams but what causes the lack of student body participation in the girls basketball games?, “The boys team gets a better audience because they are promoted more than the girls…A way to improve the situation is to promote the girls just as much as the boys because everyone is working hard and putting in the same amount of time and effort,” said senior player Leah Dawson.
Editor in Chief of the Alltold, Katherine Hill, gathered information regarding social media promotion, and the collection of data in a spreadsheet revealed that boys basketball had many more promotional posts than any other winter sport. Sarah Hickle, the assistant superintendent, commented on the contrast in promotion, specifically regarding social media. “I’m intrigued by the social media presence. While that wouldn’t necessarily- by legal parameters- fall under Title IX… I think it brings up all types of interesting questions… As far as I know, Mr. Huppert is the one who is the primary for the social media account, and they divide up sports. So I think there is an opportunity to have dialogue there. If you divide up sports and only one person is primarily running social media- you’re going to have an imbalance… You can't duplicate effort. You can't be two people in two places at the same time, but it might have an unintended consequence to another aspect like social media presence. And I can imagine being an athlete seeing that imbalance and wanting to also be recognized for their accomplishments.”
Dr. Theodore Stevens, superintendent in the School City of Mishawaka also expressed his point of view on this. “If there is a way that we can help promote the girls' games better in order to improve attendance, I am certainly not opposed to that idea… We are always looking to find ways to improve the student experience across all areas because these issues are presented in all different ways.” Dr. Stevens went on to explain that promotion and marketing is key to improving the recognition of student achievement across the board.
Promotion seems to be the biggest difference between the two teams, and teacher Alicia Harkins has a unique viewpoint on this topic. Harkins played on the girls basketball team when she attended Mishawaka, is now one of the coaches for the girls, while simultaneously having a son on the boys varsity team, “I have the benefit of having a son who’s on the boys team, and me being a coach on the girls team. There’s always been- and I say that as a former athlete that played through high school- there have always been differences. They were much bigger than what they are now… One of the biggest discrepancies is the amount of attention that the girls get versus what the boys get. Now whether that is the fault of anyone, I can’t say… We as coaches can’t and don’t put anything out on social media about our team- that’s not our position.”
Promotion is not the only difference between the boys and girls teams, there are many small inconsistencies regarding the equity of distribution between teams. “There always will be these differences. Sometimes it comes in terms of ticket revenues- the boys bring in more money. And we have a nice locker room- it’s not as nice as the boys’, but it's nice,” Harkins continued, “We have access to all the same things, but there’s always going to be that feeling. For example, in high school girls used to always have to play on weekdays, and boys would play on Friday and Saturday night.” Harkins goes on to describe how this changed when the IHSAA realized that the boys and girls were balancing the same amount of responsibilities, but one team had to be out late on school nights- which was not fair. It’s safe to say that these issues have been recognized and improved, but there is always room for more improvement.
Lack of promotion is not the only reason for the stigma surrounding girls basketball. There is a long history of women’s sports not receiving as much support or attention from the media and the general public, often because of the inherently sexist ideals surrounding female athletes. Sophomore basketball player Lilly Dawson said,“The perceptions of dominance, physical strength, and power typically portrayed by men manifest in violence against women, exploitation, non-inclusion, and discrimination. This narrative needs to stop.”
The treatment of the girls basketball team continues to be significantly different from that of the boys basketball team, despite the Title IX law. More support from the student body could certainly change the perception and even encourage the athletic department to promote the [girls] team more. Brugh commented, “The biggest issue regarding the differences between the girls and boys team would just be people coming out and supporting the team. The boys always have student sections, even when they aren’t at home. When the girls play at home there might be seven students there for support…When they [the girls team] play somewhere else, only the parents come.”
Team members also indicated that the lack of support can affect their mental health and motivation to play the game. Senior Leah Dawson said, “The lack of fans clearly affects us players, and the reason I say this is because it gives us the impression that we are boring and not interesting to watch or talk about. People never seem to be interested or excited that a girls team is playing…But once baseball, football, or men's basketball get promoted and posted on every platform, people are always talking about the game, and people show up…It sucks to feel like we aren't doing a good enough job and that we stink when people seem more engaged in men's sports than women's sports.”
Harkins shares her perspective on the girls’ responses to things like lack of a crowd or student section. “They are not working any less hard than the boys. They are not putting in any less time than the boys. All of those things are the same. But yet they don’t get that reward of the attention that the boys get. The student section is a huge thing- it’s hard to get students to come out and support every sport equally. To a certain extent I get it, but it would also be nice if it was encouraged more for them [students] to come out and show support. We know how it is for football here- it’s a big deal. It would be nice if that type of feeling was there for every sport- whether it was girls or boys.” She continues on about these noticeable differences in support, “It’s not that we accept it, or we say that it’s okay- some of it I can understand, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
Brugh also mentioned how the team responds to the small crowds, “With the Lack of support, sometimes our team can show no energy because there is no crowd to hype us up, we have to hype each other up. Although there is no student section, our team full of encouraging players help lift up the spirits of everyone.” The team takes these setbacks in stride. While it makes them feel discouraged, the fact that they are experiencing it together makes all the difference. While the student body does not help with motivation during the games, the team has learned to overcome that and provide it for themselves.
Many other schools struggle with the issue of title IX- but some have taken certain measures in an effort to change the way it is handled. Harkins explained, “A lot of schools have gone to a system where they have an AD [athletic director] for girls sports, and they have an AD for boys sports. So there is no problem with the equity of distribution of maybe the time that the athletic director spends with that team, or the time that they spend at away games or at the home games… There is one for the girls teams, and one for the boys teams; and that seems to have solved a lot of problems at a lot of highschools.”
Assistant Superintendent Sarah Hickle elaborated on this. “In leadership, having a variety of different perspectives is what’s going to provide the most global lens. So I think there is merit and value to having female-male [athletic direction] and to having diversity of any kind to ensure that there isn’t personal bias or even lived experience bias. I think that’s [diversity] a very valuable approach to anything.”
****The Alltold reached out to the athletic directors at Mishawaka High School. Huppert declined to comment, instead deferring staff reporters to SCM’s Title IX Coordinators and Girls Basketball Head Coach Chadd Blasko also declined to comment.***