Women in sports have gained a lot of ground in the past few decades,but every now and then there comes a reminder that we're still considered second best.

One of those reminders is obvious each year at the girls state lacrosse championships. Right there on the plaques for the winners and the runners-up is a figurine of a male lacrosse player.

Talk about insulting. If this doesn't say that women's sports areconsidered second class, I don't know what does.

Female athletes should not have to accept awards with male figurines. How many male athletes would quietly accept a trophy with a female figure on it?

Yet officials of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which oversees all state championships, expect coaches of girls teams to display these plaques proudly in their schools' trophy cases.

But how many people, taking a quick glance at all the plaquesand trophies inside a case, will know that's a girls lacrosse award?I don't spend much time reading the fine print on such awards.

"It's ridiculous," said Fallston coach Nancy Ferguson, whose squad was runner-up to Loch Raven in this year's Class 1A/2A championship. At the awards presentation following the May 18 title game, Ferguson managed to stifle her first reaction -- to give the trophy back.

"I still can't believe they would give us something like that," said Ferguson. "There's got to be something better than that."

The ideal figurine, of course, would be a female lacrosse player, but Ned Sparks, executive secretary for the MPSSAA, said there is no company that makes the female figurine.

"Believe me, we searched high and low for that thing, and it's not available," said Sparks. "This is the best we can do with what is available in the market place."

But there are other alternatives. There are figurines, like the winged victory figure, that represent winning even though they aren't sports specific.

Sparks, however, said the winged victory symbol is too general for state title plaques. "The winged victory figure sometimes doesn't symbolize anything. It could be for the speech contest or whatever. (The male figurine) is as close as we can get."

But to the women involved in the sport, the male lacrosse figure is not a close match. Melba Williams, who serves with Bel Air's Phyllis Hemmes as state tournament director, said she has tried to persuade Sparks to switch to the winged victory figure.

"The women don't want the men's lacrosse player on there," said Williams, a physical education teacher and field hockey coach at Dulaney High in Baltimore County.

At Loch Raven, the coaches didn't like their plaque any more than Ferguson liked Fallston's, so they decided to fix it. Diane George, athletic directorat Loch Raven, returned it to the trophy house where the male lacrosse player was removed and replaced with the winged victory figure.

George paid the $4.45 repair cost out of her own pocket. "(The male lacrosse player) is demeaning to the girls," said George. "I don't understand why they keep putting it on there. But as long as they do, we'll keep changing it."

Maybe if Ferguson and the coaches of the top two teams in Class 3A/4A took their trophies to be corrected too, state officials might finally get the point. The sad thing is they should have gotten the message already.

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