Disclaimer: First and foremost this is an opinion piece. Nothing here is set in stone and I am not a lawyer. I am just giving you facts as I see them.
Many of you may be of the understanding that there has been a push over the past year-plus to add a girls volleyball program to the Ballinger Independent School District. Last Spring, pre-Covid, the school board suggested that Ballinger Youth Sports Association add volleyball to their program to adequately gauge interest. In the fall of 2020 over 50 girls signed up to play at the YMCA in San Angelo and 49 signed up in the Spring. There will be over one dozen 7th graders ready to play next season should Ballinger add the sport which I would venture to say is significant interest.
It is interesting before we discuss too much that despite the district arguing otherwise it seems that not adding the volleyball program as requested by students and parents is a violation of Title IX of federal law, despite insistence of the administration of the opposite. If you are unclear what Title IX is I will provide you some very valuable information.
Title IX also called Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, clause of the 1972 Federal Education Amendments, signed into law on June 23, 1972, which stated that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This is a pretty narrow viewpoint of what we are looking at. When looked at on a deeper level there are several notable points. For the basis of this we will look just at Junior High since this is where the program would be implemented first.
Item 1: If the school offers athletic participation opportunities proportional to the numbers of males and females in the general student body, the school meets the participation standard.
Now when looking at this with an untrained eye it would seem this is a complete failure in the district. Why you ask? The school district has a higher percentage of female students to male students. When you look at numbers then and you have a sport, like football, that has more athletes playing then any other sport and you compare that with no sport for the girls there will be a severe disparity in percentage of participants. Some might argue that the girls have cheerleading, but since we are looking at total student numbers the eight cheerleaders compared to 40+ football players would be fairly insignificant. However, due to the federal courts ruling in 2012 that cheerleading is not considered a sport under federal law, then it does not count for numbers when it comes to Title IX compliance. Therefore your 40+ male football players is offset by 0 female athletes. Now with fairly similar participation numbers throughout basketball and track this discrepancy becomes even more apparent.
Item 2: If the school does not meet this mathematical test, it may be deemed in compliance if it can (1) demonstrate consistent expansion of opportunities for the underrepresented gender over time or (2) show that the athletic program fully met the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender.
When looking at this it becomes abundantly clear. In order to meet federal compliance with Title IX the consistent expansion of opportunities would mean that adding a Junior High Volleyball program with the intent to add a High School program in the near future would meet expansion requirements. The second part of this is even more significant. Show that the athletic program FULLY meets the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender. So for 40 years Ballinger has not had volleyball and they were well within their rights not to offer it. However, this changed when the students raised up and said they wanted to add volleyball. So according to Title IX since the interest is shown in the program by the underrepresented gender the school district MUST meet that interest.
The basic philosophical underpinning of Title IX is that there cannot be an economic justification for discrimination. The school cannot maintain that there are revenue production or other considerations that mandate that male athletes receive better treatment or participation opportunities than female athletes. A good analogy would be that a school cannot say that it cannot afford to provide wheelchair access for students with physical disabilities as required under the Americans With Disabilities Act because the football team needs the money in order to maintain its current level of revenue production. Similarly, a school cannot say that it cannot afford to provide participation opportunities for an underrepresented gender.
To put it frankly THE SCHOOL CAN NOT SAY THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT! Half of the argument was about cost. When it comes to Title IX compliance cost is irrelevant. You MUST meet the interest of the underrepresented gender. This is not a suggestion it is law.
Now on top of all of this the more disturbing comments might be some of the comments made by board members.
“I’m not sure these girls know how hard it will be. Going from one practice and one game a week to a full blown program.” Well then why have any athletics? We expect our boys coming in to football to have a full grasp of how difficult it will be? Of course not. But why is that an argument against adding volleyball and literally no other sports in the district?
“We might have some that want to play, but then when they realize how hard it is they will not want to play anymore.” Of course you will. This happens in every sport. From 20+ playing football in 7th grade to maybe 10 by the time they are Seniors. Yet again why is this an argument against volleyball, but literally no other sports?
Currently the addition of volleyball has been placed again, for the third time, on the agenda of the schoolboard for the June meeting. If this is something that concerns you then make your voice heard. Call or email your superintendent, your school board representative and let them know what your concerns are.