Cost, equality concerns produce compromise on sports schedule


Don Disney, who sparked a controversy last spring over proposed changes in this year's winter high school sports schedule, said he expects principals to approve a revised plan he will submit this week.

The plan calls for boys and girls basketball teams to continue the doubleheader format the county has used, with two twists. Weeknight games would be eliminated and replaced by doubleheaders that would begin at 3:30 p.m, while Friday doubleheaders would still start at 6 p.m. But on weekdays and Fridays, boys and girls would alternate starting times. Since 1987, all girls games have started at 6 p.m., with boys games following.

"I'm confident this [proposal] will go through, but I don't want to say for sure," said Disney, the school system's coordinator of health and physical education.

The changes, which Disney said will save an undetermined amount in security costs -- not as many security guards will be required at afternoon games -- represent a compromise between administrators, coaches and parents. They also are a response to Disney's concerns regarding equity in boys and girls sports.

Administrators originally wanted all night games eliminated next year to increase evening study time for students and to trim what sometimes amount to 15-hour workdays during the winter season. Principals are required to be at their schools during sporting events.

While some coaches greeted Disney's proposal last spring with indifference -- that plan included alternating starting times but also called for boys and girls to play at opposing sites during the week -- girls coaches expressed fear that fans would be forced to choose between attending boys or girls games. They also said that girls who were scheduled to play the second half of a doubleheader would see scores of spectators leaving the gym after boys games.

"At some schools, people will walk out [on the girls] en masse," said Mount Hebron girls basketball coach Dave Greenberg. "That could do grave damage to the girls program."

Disney later decided to keep the varsity boys and girls together, citing the additional security that would be required to stage games at eight high schools, instead of four under the current system.

"It would become a security nightmare," Disney said.

At the heart of Disney's proposal is apprehension about Title IX, the 1972 federal mandate that banned discrimination in all federally funded school programs. Among the equal opportunity issues the mandate covers is the starting time of male and female sporting events. Disney said the current schedule, with the boys always playing the second game, makes girls sports appear inferior.

"I've wrestled with it [the schedule] for years, because I knew it was sending the message about girls sports. It took me three years to pull the trigger," Disney said. "I'm trying to be open-minded and sensitive to women and sports issues. I want to be sensitive to equity issues."

Part of Disney's awareness can be traced to a handful of letters threatening lawsuits that he and the school board have received this year from parents of female high school athletes.

In one letter, Cal and Jan Saltzman, the parents of Centennial volleyball star Shannon Saltzman, wrote, "if you cannot stop this [discrimination], you will force us to consider appropriate legal action so that female athletes will have the same opportunity as male athletes."

Disney acknowledged he has received "about six" such written complaints, but added, "That's not what made us change."

It is unclear where such a lawsuit would lead, said Shirley Sagawa, senior counsel at the National Womens Law Center in Washington.

"If there is a specific time period that could be viewed as more favorable [to boys or girls], there could be a [Title IX] violation," Sagawa said. "Whatever that preferable time is, you can't always give that to the boys. It's hard for me to say what's the better time. It would depend on the community view."

Three months ago, Disney considered the winter schedule to be written in stone. That was before he was bombarded by complaints from coaches, administrators and parents, causing the controversy to drag on into the summer. Disney expects principals to approve his final proposal quickly.

"We've got to get these schedules printed," Disney said. "I've never had to make a decision that was so controversial. There are always going to be cracks and inconveniences for someone. You can't please everybody."

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