Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Limiting Choices for Boys and Girls | Despite preferring to play with boys rather than girls when I was growing up in the 1950s, I was never one for sports. I sometimes agreed to play baseball with the boys, but only if they let me take as many tries at bat as it took to finally hit the ball. By the time I was in high school, I had perfected a long list of mysterious ailments and physical limitations to keep me from having to play basketball, volleyball or any other tortuous game our male gym teacher devised for the one-hour-a-week session of physical education required at my Catholic school.

Although my distaste for sports was more common among girls of my generation, I suspect that many girls feel the same way today, some 30 years after passage of Title IX, the landmark law that guaranteed nondiscrimination in all education programs, including sports.

Title IX has been a wonderful vehicle to expand opportunity for girls who chose to play sports in schools and colleges over the last three decades. Unfortunately, some feminist extremists have tried to hijack the law in recent years to limit choices for both girls and boys to participate in school-sponsored sports teams.

The purpose of Title IX was to ensure that girls have equal opportunity to engage in school sports activities if they chose, not to guarantee that every school produces as many female athletes as male. While female interest in athletics has increased dramatically since Title IX was enacted, many schools still find it difficult to get as many girls as boys to join sports teams. The problem is especially acute at the college level -- and that drives some feminists mad.

If more boys than girls sign up for college sports, feminists cry foul. Even if schools expand the number and types of sports offered to encourage more female participation -- and no female who has an interest in playing a particular sport has been denied opportunity to do so -- these gender-equity radicals claim the schools are discriminating. The feminists' solution has been to limit boys' participation so that it matches the girls', which is why many schools have cut out some sports altogether, such as wrestling and football.

It's not the schools' fault. They are in a real bind. If the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) finds that schools do not provide athletic financial assistance that is "substantially proportionate" to male and female athletes, the school jeopardizes its federal funding, since the law allows the government to deny money to schools that discriminate. For several years, OCR has applied a three-prong test to determine if schools were complying with the "substantially proportionate" rule -- which language, by the way, isn't in the law itself.

OCR's three prongs allow schools to demonstrate compliance if they can show the number of female athletes are proportional to the number of women who attend the school; they can demonstrate a history and continuing practice of expanding women's athletic programs; or if their current programs fully accommodate the interests and abilities of women.

In practice, however, especially during the Clinton years, OCR has relied almost exclusively on the first prong, which amounts to insisting on quotas for female athletes. If a school's enrollment is 55 percent female (the national average), then 55 percent of its athletes have to be female. Too bad if a higher proportion of male college students are interested in playing sports than females. The feminists who have dominated Title IX programs and enforcement in recent years don't believe girls should have a choice in the matter -- or more accurately, if girls choose not to play, then neither can the boys.

This week, an independent commission appointed by the Secretary of Education recommended that OCR should change its methods of interpreting compliance with Title IX to allow schools more flexibility. The commission -- made up of leading female and male athletic directors, prominent female athletes, professors and representatives of three women's advocacy groups -- sensibly recommended that schools be allowed to survey students to determine the relative interest male and female students express in playing sports.

It's time now for the feminist ideologues to prove they're pro-choice when it comes to athletics.

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