Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Boys playing field hockey

Boys playing high school field hockey on historically all-girls' teams has caused the occasional flare-up in the gender equity/Title IX discourse.
I came across this article about a not-quite-a flare-up last month. I probably wouldn't have paid too much attention because it does not seem to be an especially contentious situation, but this story is in my backyard, so...
In South Hadley, MA, two boys--brothers, actually--are playing on the very successful South Hadley High School field hockey team. After initial concern about the boys dominating play, it seems everyone is pretty happy about the situation. The coach sees herself as having 16 players, not 14 girls and 2 boys. She's a little too close to saying "I don't see gender" for my comfort, but if everyone is indeed okay with what is happening--then, good. I am not surprised that a community like South Hadley is accepting, welcoming even, of boys playing with girls. And, according to the article, boys have been playing field hockey in western Massachusetts since the 1980s. And a Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that boys could play on girls' field hockey teams. This year alone several western Massachusetts communities have at least one boy playing field hockey.
I am not opposed to integrated sports--in theory. And in practice, this one seems to be working--for South Hadley.* What their opponents think or say, well...I assume some may not be so happy. [Post season starts this week. South Hadley went 17-0-1 this season and has earned a second seed in the tournament. The article about post-season play made no mention of the boys playing with girls issue.]
The invocation of Title IX by the author, though, confused me. He wrote that Title IX
"grants equal gender opportunity to females and males." And then states:
"it should be emphasized that neither the Menards [the brothers] nor South Hadley broke any rules. Actually, it’s just the opposite: they’re following the rules of Title IX."
I'm not really sure which rules he is referring to here. Title IX does not prohibit integrated sports. It does not provide, however, opportunities for girls to play in boys' contact sports (though other laws have compelled schools to, for example, allow girls on football teams). It does require the historically underrepresented sex be provided equitable opportunities.
And because there is still no requirement that high schools report their athletic department data, in the way colleges and universities do, we don't actually know how many athletic opportunities the girls in South Hadley receive in comparison to the boys.
Again, I like the idea of integrated sports. I think there are many benefits to such a situation. But what if those boys are taking away opportunities from girls when boys already have more opportunities? That situation becomes a little more sticky.

* In another nearby western MA town, people were not so happy that a boy was playing with the girls--in 2001. I hesitate to put up this link to Rick Reilly's column about the situation in Shelbourne Falls because parts of it are a little offensive, but it covers the issue well so...