When discussing how sports benefits girls — which many of us are doing today as part of the National Women’s Law Center Rally for Girls’ Sports Day — I keep coming back to the idea of community.
While sports certainly has many individual health and social benefits for girls, it also gives girls a space to develop relationships based on teamwork and respect. Bolstered by their team, girls are able to step in front of their larger school community and exude confidence and pride that might be missing in other parts of their lives.
Girls’ relationships with that larger community, however, are often complicated when schools in underserved neighborhoods have trouble providing girls (and all athletes, for that matter) with a safe space in which to perform.
Here in Chicago where I live, Chicago Public Schools are struggling with many inequity issues. CPS is at the top of the list of schools against which NWLC has filed administrative complaints for Title IX violations. The district has a whopping 33 percent sports participation gap between girls and boys (the next closest complaint is for the Sioux Falls School District with a 15.6 percent gap). See the NWLC’s briefing paper (pdf) for more vivid detail.
But poverty and the constant threat of violence also play a big role in forming sports communities. A recent story by Lisa Pevtzow in the Chicago Tribune highlights the struggle of the girls basketball team of the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood on the west side of the city. Because of lack of facilities, the team — along with other boys’ and girls’ teams at the school — have had to walk to a nearby YMCA to practice:
Keeping close together, the players make their way past boarded-up buildings, crumbling sidewalks and a gantlet of drug pushers and users who tug on their coats, grab at their equipment and hurl abuse.
“If we don’t respond, they call us names. It can be very scary,” said team member Ronye Scott, a junior at the Humboldt Park high school.
Thankfully, the school has just broke ground on a new gym of their own that should be ready for next year. But the past experiences of the students will most certainly linger — and act as a reminder of how a safe athletic environment needs to be a right for girls and all athletes.
Marlon Tobin, athletic director and assistant principal at the school, told Pevtzow some of those telling stories:
“We have to beg, borrow and steal space for our programs,” Tobin said. “We’ve already tapped out everything in the neighborhood that’ll let us in.”
Beyond causing inconvenience, the lack of gym facilities has created a significant safety problem, he said. A year ago, a group of Rowe-Clarke students were jumped on their way to play soccer. More recently, Tobin said, the school learned the hard way not to let the girls soccer team walk down the street in their shorts and jerseys, because they were harassed when they did.
“We tell kids to do the right thing and play sports, and now we have to tell them it’s not safe,” Tobin said.
Plus: For more reading about the importance of girls in sports, check out these posts compiled by the NWLC.