In Anne Arundel County, high school sports are very much a man's world.
Of the 12 high school athletic directors, all are men. Of the 12 assistant directors, all but two are men. Boys get to play at 7 p.m., "prime time" in the sports schedule, more often than girls. The boys generally have nicer, newer uniforms. Their playing fields usually are in better shape.
A school Gender Equity Committee has found enough evidence of a disparity in the treatment of girls' and boys' sports to make it clear that the school system needs to do a better job of ensuring fair treatment. If the committee's survey is anywhere near the mark -- and the panel questioned enough principals, sports directors, students and parents to convince us it is -- then the schools are not fulfilling the federal law requiring equity in education.
The problem is two-fold.
First, boys' teams enjoy more money, thanks mainly to donations from booster clubs. Granted, the school system cannot tell parents of the boys' football team they have to buy shin guards for the girls' field hockey players. Booster clubs are volunteer organizations, and they have a right to support whom they want. But the schools can set limits on how much a program can take in from booster donations in a given year. They can encourage replacement of sports-specific booster clubs with a general athletic club, the proceeds to be distributed to all sports programs.
The schools can also make sure gate receipts, two-thirds of which go into a school's general athletic fund, are distributed fairly. Right now, school officials have a hard time determining whether girls' programs are getting their share because athletic directors aren't required to report how the money is used. The committee's suggestion for a mandatory reporting system would correct that.
The second part of the gender equity problem is administrative. With no female athletic directors, it is virtually inevitable that girls' sports get short shrift. As the committee notes, the system must find ways to recruit more women into these positions.
The school board has not yet accepted the committee's report; it should.
Unlike many school problems, this one involves little philosophical argument. It does, however, call for a commitment on the part of the board to take the practical steps that would ensure fair treatment.