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Posts Tagged ‘Florida High School Athletic Association

Top youth sports stories of the year, part II (the final five)

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First, an apology. When I posted stories Nos. 10-6 for the top 10 youth sports stories of the year, I wrote that the next day, I would post No. 5-1. The first post went up Dec. 28. No second post Dec. 29. Or Dec. 30. Or Dec. 31. Or Jan. 1. I should know better than to promise on a schedule.

I presumed that news on the youth sports beat would be slow (it wasn’t), and that somehow having four kids home on winter vacation would be less than hectic (it wasn’t). Also, I was a tad late getting back from my 1o-year-old daughter’s basketball game today. I was accosted by an angry mother, the same one who tried to rush me at the bench once before, who wanted to know, in my role as a coach, if I knew what the fuck I was doing.

Actually, it was a bit entertaining, her screaming and swearing at me on the walk in front of our gym, as other parents and children stopped in their tracks to watch the entertainment (I, not she, got this view because I was facing the parking lot). Early on, the mom’s boyfriend implored her to get into the car (they had someplace they had to be), but then he turned on another guy when he started yelling at the mom to shut up. Fortunately, no riot ensued, although I wasn’t sure for a minute.

Without getting into all the details about her dispute — mainly, it was about how I was treating her son, the team’s best player and admittedly its biggest hothead — I will say that by the time the director of the basketball program rushed out in 5-degree weather to check out what was going on (he was called out by a dad from my team, who thankfully threw in that I was a nice guy), the conversation had turned civil. The mom just wanted to get her piece out, and she was willing to listen when I explained why I did what I did, that the point of this league wasn’t winning today, and that I hoped I was preparing her son for a leadership role on his school team. Or maybe she was freezing cold and couldn’t summon the energy anymore. I had two advantages: my Upper Peninsula of Michigan blood, and a much warmer coat. Maybe Mike Leach could have learned a little something, no?

So now, here I am, safe at home, no one yelling at me (yet), so I’ll take a few minutes to sum up the top five youth sports stories of the year.

5. Girls, girls, girls

Nearly 40 years after the passage of Title IX, requiring schools receiving public money to offer equal opportunities (in sports and elsewhere) to boys and girls, we’re still fighting about what that means. The most notable cases were in Indiana and Florida. The Indiana High School Athletic Association folded quickly, and correctly, when a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 14-year-old girl who wanted to try out for her high school baseball team, but was told state rules required her to play the “equal” sports of girls’ softball. She didn’t make the team, but of course that wasn’t the point.

By the way, with no litigation involved Emily Montgomery of Vincennes (Ind.) Rivet played left field for the school’s baseball team, which made it to the Class A state final before losing. Montgomery also played in the Class A state finals for girls’ basketball, too. Her brother asked her to join the baseball team for a practical reason — the school has only 92 students and otherwise would have had only 10 members.

Meanwhile, in Florida, things were a little more contentious.

A lawsuit filed by lead attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer, fought the state high school athletic association’s scheduling cuts to all sports except football and cheerleading, in the name of saving money as the state’s property tax collections went south with the housing market (which was no longer coming south). The lawsuit alleged Title IX violations because the cuts were not made equally. Originally, the Florida High School Athletic Association said they were, because, get this, football officially is a coed sport. Hey, just because only three girls out of 36,000 players are on rosters isn’t because chicks aren’t invited! (And you can’t cut cheerleading, because if you have football, you gotta have cheerleaders.)

Dutifully embarrassed, the FHSAA dropped the football-as-coed-sport nonsense and stopped the statewide cuts. Although, speaking of cuts, that brings us to our No. 4 story…

4. The economy’s effect on youth sports

Florida was one of multiple states that looked at cutting sports schedules statewide as a means of saving money. Although few did, a lot of cuts happened at the local level, most famously in Grove City, Ohio, where all extracurricular activities were cut after voters multiple times rejected tax increases (and then came back when they finally approved one). Schools nationwide implemented pay-to-play programs, meaning students were charged a fee when they previously were not in order to play sports.

However, the down economy did not necessarily mean that fewer children were playing. In fact, many cities nationwide were building large youth sports facilities in hopes of attracting tournaments that could fill up local hotels and restaurants, and fill up tax coffers hurting from the closing of the local plant.

3. 100-0

Dallas Morning News reporter Barry Horn happened to look at his newspaper’s girls’ basketball box scores and noticed something unusual: Covenant School 100, Dallas Academy 0. So he did a nice little story about Dallas Academy, a private school geared toward kids with learning disabilities, and one that has had athletic success. About 663,000 first-day page views later, 100-0 was a Rorschach test about sportsmanship. Did Covenant coach Micah Grimes run up the score by playing pressing defense for too long? Or was Dallas Academy responsible for preparing a team well enough so it didn’t get smoked 100-0? (Complicating matters was that Dallas Academy often was portrayed as a team of Special Olympians, when in fact the disabilities ran to the likes of ADHD and dyslexia.)

Blowout scores are endemic to girls’ basketball, where the quality of talent, coaching and commitment vary widely from school to school in comparison to boys’ sports. But all the bad publicity about 100-0, and Grimes’ public statement against his school’s apology for it, led to the coach’s firing in January, two weeks after the game. Meaning, Mike Leach was not the only Texas coach in 2009 to get canned after refusing to apologize.

A post-script: in December, Dallas Academy got its first victory since 2001-02, aided by a new team member who scored 31 of its 34 points in a 34-33 triumph. Another post-script: Dallas Academy also dropped out of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, meaning that Covenant was no longer forced to face it in association play.

2. The trial of David Jason Stinson

Stinson was indicted last January in Louisville, Ky., on reckless homicide charges after one his Pleasure Ridge Park High School football players, 15-year-old Max Gilpin, collapsed and died in an August 2008 practice. Gilpin was ruled to have died from overheating, and Stinson (by then the former Pleasure Ridge Park coach) became what was believed to be the first coach in the nation to face criminal charges for a player’s practice- or game-related death.

Youth and school coaches nationwide watched Stinson’s case closely (and some did more than that, contributing to his legal defense fund) for fear that they could be next if something terrible happened on their watch. After all, the case against Stinson was built mainly on him making his players run “gassers” at the end of a practice in 94-degree heat-index weather, and Stinson’s bluster that he was going to keep his team running until somebody quit, and his allegedly denying players water. Sounds harsh, but it also sounds like what 90 percent of coaches have done at some point.

It turned out that it took the jury only 90 minutes to acquit Stinson, in part because of evidence Gilpin took Adderall and creatine, both of which can cause quicker dehydration. (A civil suit filed by Gilpin’s parents, however, is still in play.) Still, his case, if nothing else, got a lot of coaches and authorities to take heat and dehydration more seriously, including in Kentucky, where the state legislature beefed up rules on access to trainers and handling sports in the heat.

But even despite the tragedy of a teenager’s death, Stinson and Gilpin didn’t turn out to be the top youth sports story of the year, or even the top youth sports-related health issue of the year. That honor goes to…

1. Concussions

No longer is a player who gets a little foggy someone who is “dinged.” From pro leagues on down, concussions — brain injuries — are being taken seriously more than they ever have. Let’s put it this way: had alleged prima donna Adam James been allegedly locked in a room by his head coach, Mike Leach, because he had a bruised sternum, Leach might be coaching Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl, being played as I type this, instead of preparing his lawsuit against the school for firing him.

Washington this year became the first state to require young athletes diagnosed with concussions to get medical clearance before returning to action, and bills regarding concussion safety have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. It’s not just football players suffering — one girl speaking out in favor of the Senate bill is a 16-year-old who quit basketball after 11 concussions. Eleven!

Concussions aren’t just a story confined to 2009. It goes to the top spot because they will be a topic of conversation and debate for years to come. Already, there’s discussion of what the future of football will be, or how long it has one, because of the prevalance of concussions.

Also, I can’t leave this topic without acknowledging the hard work of Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, who has covered concussions thoroughly for years, and might just be single-handedly responsible for this whole conversation we’re having about them. There are going to be people who literally will owe their lives to him.

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Upon further review, Florida reverses school sports cutbacks

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The Florida High School Athletic Association, as expected Wednesday, rolled back a plan to cut back schedules for every sport but football and competitive cheerleading. The vote was 15-0, compared to the 9-6 vote in April that established the plan as a way to save money in the face of plummeting property tax revenues for the state’s schools.

The FHSAA was sued on behalf of girls who argued their Title IX rights were violated because by not touching football, the cuts overwhelmingly affected girls’ participation compared with boys’. The FHSAA may well still be ready to argue in court on Friday in Jacksonville that football is a coed sport (the most recenty numbers I’ve seen are 40,000 boys and eight girls, up from the previous count of three.) But Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the lawyer/ex-Olympic swimmer/mother of twin daughters handling the Title IX lawsuit, says she will continue to seek an injunction against the just-rejected plan so the FHSAA can’t try it again. She’ll probably get it, if not Friday, then soon enough.

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Personal foul against the FHSAA, taking Title IX to the ground and givin’ it the business.

Coincidentally, the FHSAA’s change of heart comes the day a group called the College Sports Council put out a release touting a study claiming scholarship discrimination by NCAA programs — against men. From the release, passed to me by the group’s PR contact, Eric McErlain (one of the best hockey bloggers in the business, by the way):

The findings of a first-of-a-kind study of NCAA participation and scholarship data conducted by the College Sports Council (CSC) shows that in NCAA Division I “gender symmetric sports” (teams where both male and female athletes participate), female students are accorded far more opportunities than male students to compete and earn scholarships.

“Because only 119 schools, or less than 12% of all NCAA member institutions, offer the full 85 football scholarships, the NCAA can’t use football to tackle criticism of their discrimination against male athletes in gender symmetric sports,” said CSC Chairman Eric Pearson. “This new study appears to provide prima facie evidence of disparate treatment of male students by the 28% of NCAA Division I schools that don’t sponsor football teams.”

Findings of the study, the first of its kind to compare scholarship opportunities for men and women in NCAA Division I using the organization’s own data, include:

  • At the NCAA Division I level, there are far more women’s teams (2,653) than men’s teams (2,097).  The study found the greatest gender disparities in favor of women in the sports of Volleyball (313 to 21) and Soccer (300 to 195).
  • Overall in “gender symmetric” sports, there are far more scholarships available for women (32,656) than for men (20,206).  This disparity is pronounced through virtually all “gender symmetric” sports because of NCAA scholarship limits.  As a result, even in one of the only sports where there are more men’s teams, golf (285 to 228), there are still more athletic scholarships available for women (1,368 to 1,282.5).
  • In every “gender symmetric” sport with the exception of gymnastics, men face longer odds against getting a scholarship than women.  By far, the most difficult athletic scholarship to obtain at the Division I level is in men’s volleyball, where there are 489 high school athletes for every full NCAA scholarship. Similar long odds exist for men competing in Track and Field/Cross-Country (221 to 1), Soccer and Water Polo (196 to 1) and Tennis (136 to 1).

Before you dismiss the College Sports Council as being charter members of the He-Man Women Hater’s Club, it should be noted that the organization includes a lot of people associated with programs that have gotten the ass end of Title IX. Generally colleges, instead of merely expanding opportunities for women, have tried to game their numbers by cutting men’s nonrevenue sports such as gymnastics and wrestling.

It could be argued that the Florida High School Athletic Association tried to do merely what its college brethren have done — protect football uber alles, and slash and burn everywhere else they can get away with. The issue of Florida’s financial problems doesn’t go away. In fact, FHSAA board members said after the vote that individual schools will now have to make their own cutbacks.

Other states, such as Nevada and Delaware, have cut back schedules for other sports and left football alone, with the argument that football pays the freight and needs to be protected. But in many cases at the high school and college level, football brings in a lot of money, but it also costs a lot of money. Some problems might be solved in making football cut back a little, for a change.

Written by rkcookjr

July 16, 2009 at 12:47 am

Florida officially declares high school football a coed sport

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Florida high school girls, if you’ve ever wondered about whether you should go out for your tackle football team, wonder no more.

You don’t need to be worried that some good-ol’-boy coach is going to point you to the cheerleading tryouts. You don’t have to fret that your classmates will think you’re some sort of lesbian, and not the hot kind who appears on Howard Stern. Most importantly, you do not have to shoulder the burden of being a female breaking into a male sport.

That’s because the Florida High School Athletics Association has declared, in court, in very legal language, that football is a coed sport.

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Likely Seminole High 2009 starting lineup.

If some local version of Gary Barnett tries to pick on you by saying not only are you a girl, but you’re terrible, so what? If you do this right, there are going to at least 50 other girls right there with you on the practice field. After all, the leaders of high school sports in Florida said this is how things are supposed to be.

Well, technically the FHSAA is ass-covering with its Sarah Palin-timed response (right before the July 4th holiday) to a lawsuit against its board’s 9-6 vote in April to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent, and junior varsity, and freshman games by 40 percent, for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years — for everyone sport except football and competitive cheerleading. You can’t cut football, because that’s a moneymaker! And you can’t cut cheerleading, because who the hell is going to yell their pretty little heads off for the football team?

If the FHSAA had just cut everything across the board, as New York has done, it might have been OK. After all, schools are funded by property taxes, and Florida’s are adjusted annually based on the average home sale price in January. As you might expect in a once-hot, cratering real estate market, schools are watching their bottom lines bottom out with every budget cycle.

Alas, by carving out an exception, the FHSAA left itself open to a lawsuit, and indeed a class-action case was filed in June on behalf of six girls, on the basis that the policy disparately treats female athletes under Title IX, the 1972 federal law requiring gender equity in school sports.

So there is where crisis meets opportunity for you football-loving Florida girls. The FHSAA did not say it was good on gender equity because (dragging its feet until the NFL pushed for it, and until someone reminded the association of Title IX) in January it began offering girls’ flag football as a varsity sports. Given that the Indiana High School Athletic Association dropped its own equating of baseball to softball after a girl sued to overturn its no-baseball-for-the-fairer-sex rule, the Florida folks probably figured a court wouldn’t buy that brand of reasoning.

No, the FHSAA says tackle football is a coed sports because three girls play it. Statewide. Along with 36,000 boys.

OK, technically the FHSAA is correct. However, in real life, most football coaches would welcome a girl running on their field as much as they would a case of MRSA running through the locker room.

It’s possible the FHSAA will lose its lawsuit (more like probable, given Title IX’s legal winning streak), or hastily amend its cutback plan in a July 15 meeting, scheduled two days before the next court hearing. At that point, the FHSAA might try to soft-pedal what it said in court.

But the legal rule is, no take-backsies! Girls, through its legal filing, the FHSAA has explicitly endorsed — nay, demanded — your participation.

The principals can’t do anything to stop you. The athletic directors can’t do anything to stop you. The coaches can’t do anything to stop you. And damn well those snot-nosed, stinky boys can’t do anything to stop you.

Get a few friends together. Get a lot of friends together. Get a lot of girls who aren’t even Facebook friends together. Then march down to the football coach’s office, copy of the FHSAA’s filing in hand, and tell that whistle-blowing, big-gutted tough-ass that you’re all playing football this year, and there ain’t a thing he can do about it, so what blocking sled should we hit, dammit?