By Monroe Roark
The athletic landscape of the
Henry County School System could change dramatically in the next
In reaction to a federal
lawsuit, the school district is currently surveying female students
to gauge their interest in the possible addition of two sports to
the calendar – gymnastics and lacrosse.
Those two sports, plus
swimming, are the only GHSA-sanctioned sports not already offered in
Henry County public schools, according to Vicki Davis, the
district’s athletics supervisor. This includes boys and girls.
This is especially
noteworthy, Davis said, due to the fact that six of the county’s
nine high schools opened in a 10-year period during the 2000s.
“Every time a new school
opened, we offered everything to that – a full flight of everything
we offered at other schools,” she said.
However, when the U.S.
Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights took at look at the
statistics regarding athletic participation, that office found that
a higher percentage of boys were competing than girls, as much as 22
percent more at some individual schools. This conclusion was made
looking purely at the numbers, Davis said, and there was no real
slight of female students.
“We were putting the
offerings out there, but you can’t make boys or girls sign up for
sports they don’t want to participate in,” she said. “We may have a
handful of kids who weren’t satisfied with their options, but out of
17,000 high school students we have not had an overwhelming number
There are occasional requests
from students that the district simply cannot accommodate, such as a
recent inquiry about the possibility of an equestrian team. “I think
that’s a great sport, but there is not nearly enough demand to
justify offering it in our high schools,” said Davis.
A Title IX lawsuit was filed
in response to the findings of the Office of Civil Rights. Title IX
is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in
education. One result of the lawsuit, which was settled last
October, is a new interest survey for girls in grades 8 and up,
which Davis acknowledged had not been done in a while.
The survey was conducted to
determine which of the three sanctioned sports not currently offered
would be worth exploring. Gymnastics and lacrosse were the top
vote-getters, although a number of students expressed interest in
swimming as well, Davis said.
She is now in the process of
going to each of the high schools and meeting with specific students
who expressed interest. The settlement requires looking at each
school individually – students up through 11th grade in addition to
eighth-graders at each high school’s feeder school.
For instance, the most
popular choice at Union Grove High School was lacrosse, where Davis
has met with girls in grades 8-11 who chose lacrosse on the survey.
Her next step there will be to meet with parents and see how serious
they are about supporting their students in a new sport.
The school district is
required to consider whether there is sufficient interest, and must
offer a sport for which there is sufficient interest, Davis said.
The terms of the settlement
cover the next three school years.
While the complaint is based
upon female participation and school system officials are focusing
there, the boys will not be left out, Davis said. Also, while the
interest in swimming was not at the level of the other two sports,
it could be at a later time.
The settlement does not
dictate that the school system do a survey every year, but officials
could perform another one during the 2014-15 school year to make
sure they are continuing to have accurate results.
“We really want to meet the needs of our
kids,” said Davis, “so we need to keep a finger on the pulse of what
those needs might be.”