Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saturday Night's Fun: Skyline Soccer, MHSAA, and Title IX

 My Saturday Night
The Skyline women's soccer team made it to the District 2 regionals and I went to see my daughter's friend play. Saturday night, at Trenton High School, this group of 9th and 10th graders played a Livonia Ladywood team (grades 9-12) that included at least one all-stater. Skyline lost, 1-0. Their best chances to score came in the last 15 minutes.  Read all about it here (with video). 
(The team runs the field--out to the bleachers and back--at the end of the game.)

Watching the game sent me down Memory Lane. I was in high school in the years post-Title IX.
Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
Many people have never heard of Title IX.  Most people who know about Title IX think it applies only to sports, but athletics is only one of 10 key areas addressed by the law. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology. (From
From a Sports Perspective
What a difference a few years make! When I was in middle school, all the girls (grades 7-12--the middle school was separate, but attached to the high school) were consigned to the small gym. All the boys (grades 7-12) got the big and beautiful gym. By the time I got to high school, the powers-that-be were beginning to implement Title IX (it took them a few years). By 1976, the middle school students got the small gym, and the high school students got the big gym. Did that mean more juggling of space? You bet. And with physical education four days a week, for four years, space got tight. That is, actually, how I learned to juggle--in the wrestling room. They made it work though, and juggling space just seemed normal.
In retrospect, the physical education department at my high school seemed to want to make Title IX work--but they had a lot of catch-up to do. There were hardly any girls' after-school sports at the time. And that's probably why, when my friends Denise and Anne lobbied for a girls' soccer team (we weren't called "women's" soccer), they let us form one. So as a senior, I was on the first girls' soccer team for our high school.
Then and Now
Here are a couple of differences between then and now: the skill level of the Skyline players is vastly vastly better, and the women's game is much more physical. It was fun to watch.
Another thing that was different--and completely, totally, outstandingly cool? The men's soccer team showed up as the cheer section--with face paint and school colors. And they brought the mascot!

If we had made it to regionals back in 1980, I think we would have gotten the parents. But the boys' team? No way! (Yes, of course the parents were there Saturday night. My favorite parent line was from a parent who didn't think the ref was being fair: "Ref, you're missing a great game here!") Digression: Did you know that the chant "Go Blue" works for Skyline as well as UM?

MHSAA: Dumb Decisions, and Where Does My Money Go?
The game cost $5 per ticket to get in (I spent $15), and the tickets are stamped MHSAA: Michigan High School Athletic Association. MHSAA is, essentially, the statewide high school sports organization. I believe all of the local schools that field sports teams are members, and I'm including private, parochial, and charter schools (e.g., Greenhills, Gabriel Richard, and Central Academy).
If you want, you can think of it as a monopoly. On the one hand, maybe a monopoly makes sense for coordination purposes.
On the other hand, MHSAA spent the last ten-or-so years strenuously fighting a Title IX challenge. Remember, school districts around the state support MHSAA with their dollars (our tax dollars), and I certainly didn't support the MHSAA fight. So I started thinking about the lawsuit.

Here is the very quick summary:
Communities for Equity, a Grand-Rapids-based group, sued MHSAA over the placement of sports seasons. It's not illegal to have (for instance) one season of basketball in the fall or spring, and a different season in the winter--and obviously that makes it easier to schedule gym time. However, in Michigan, the "worse" or non-traditional season was always given to the women's sports season. Under Title IX, the discriminatory practice--always giving women the less desirable season--is illegal. So--Communities for Equity sued, and won. MHSAA appealed, and lost. Appealed, and lost. . . The lawsuit went on for nine years (!). In the end, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
During those nine years (that is nine graduating classes), other states' high school athletic associations had the same issue. But instead of pursuing ongoing legal action, and racking up millions of dollars in legal fees, those states' athletic associations changed their practice. In the end: Michigan had to align their seasons the same way that 49 other states had already done. (That's right, we were LAST to adopt a practice everyone else had already done.) As far as I'm concerned, that was the right thing to do--but it would have been the right thing to do many years earlier. Hey people, you were a little late to the party!
Further--if it were up to me, I would have changed the MHSAA leadership a long time ago. What were they thinking, fighting this for so many years? What's more, they are still whining about the change. Want some cheese with that whine?

From a Detroit News article written 2/25/2010,
 "I don't think people are much happier about it today then they were when the court ruling was made," said John "Jack" Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA, which opposed changes to the seasons.
WAIT A SECOND. Who is "people?" I'm people. And I am VERY HAPPY about the change.

Then the article quotes Connie Engel:
Engel, who lives in Grand Rapids, is one of the founders of the Communities of Equity, the group that sued the MHSAA in 1998 for what it described as discriminatory scheduling practices at the convenience of boys sports.
"Looking through the eyes of Title IX, gate receipts can't be a persuasive factor," she said. "It isn't anything about the public, it's about the children's legal rights to be treated without discrimination. I just opened the newspaper Saturday morning and there were two big spreads on each side with boys and girls basketball."
It was MHSAA's own damn fault that they ended up with a huge legal bill at the end. They didn't need to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court. They could have changed their practice. After the final ruling stood, MHSAA started moaning and groaning. They said that they might need to file for bankruptcy. They said they might need to assess all of the high schools in the association a special (and very large) assessment.
So I wondered, after I noticed that my ticket money was going to MHSAA, what ever happened to that legal bill? It was hard to find out.
You know that iPhone commercial, "There's an app for that?" Well, it turns out that--almost whatever you are looking for--"There's a blog for that." In this case, had the answer. (They have several posts on the case. If you are interested, click on the Michigan tag.)

In summary, instead of paying $7 million all at once, MHSAA is paying less and paying gradually, with final payments coming in 2014. And they can't get out of paying by filing for bankruptcy. The details of the agreement were originally covered by the Downriver News-Herald. (Which brings me back to the soccer game, I guess, since Trenton is Downriver.) What's surprising to me is how little news follow-up there was of this huge story that affects thousands of student-athletes--and all the Michigan high schools--every year.

In the Billie Jean King/Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova era, Virginia Slims supported the women's tennis tour, with the tag line "You've come a long way, baby."
We sure have. But we have a long way to go.
Read more about Title IX and athletics at and at


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I removed the comment above because the commenter called me "princess." That term was being used in a derogatory manner.

    However, I do want to share and rebut the commenter's main point.
    "Just remember - it's more important that girls play soccer WHEN they want rather than letting boys play soccer at all."

    The boys get to play soccer. The issue in the CFE lawsuit was not about allowing kids to play, but about the seasons in which they play. In the case of the Skyline soccer team, the women's team made it to regionals (part of the playoff system), and the men's team did not.

  3. Yes, it is a different world for girls since Title IX. And a much better one. Do you remember when Jane Bennet was named Athletic Director at Huron High? It was a first in Michigan and a big deal. Now it is common.