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Title IX Success Story: Leveling the Playing Field with Field Hockey

In honor of the 45th Anniversary of Title IX, we would like to share a WSF Advocacy success story. This story represents just one of hundreds of inquiries the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Advocacy Department fields each year about Title IX and gender equity in sports. The Women’s Sports Foundation serves as the collective voice for gender equity in all aspects of athletics through many initiatives, including public education and advocacy efforts like this. Title IX ensures equal access to both men and women in federally-funded educational programs and activities, including sports. To learn more about Title IX and how the Women’s Sports Foundation can help you advocate for girls in your community, visit us here.

As she looked forward to her freshman year, field hockey player Maya Russell* was excited to continue competing in the sport she loved at her mid-Atlantic public high school.  Field hockey was a thriving sport available broadly in nearly every suburb in the region – but Maya was disappointed to learn that it was not offered in hers.  With no chance to participate at the high school level and thus a limited path to a collegiate career in the sport, Maya joined forces with teammates, coaches and parents to take action.

Who was their first call for expertise on gender equity in sports?  The Women’s Sports Foundation.  Our advocacy team confirmed that, based on the information provided, it didn’t sound like the district was providing equitable access and benefits to its female athletes and equipped these families with an array of strategies and resources to advocate for their daughters. We got started with Play Fair: A Title IX Play book for Victory, a guide aimed at helping athletes, coaches, parents, administrators and others ensure that girls and women receive equal opportunities in high school and college sports. It concentrates on explaining Title IX rules and regulations to better analyze a school’s athletic program.

Armed with this playbook and additional Title IX resources, the community mobilized and campaigned to add a varsity level field hockey program at the 15 high schools in their district.  The Women’s Sports Foundation provided continual support, sharing not only information about the intricacies of Title IX, but guidance and encouragement along the way.   After more than a year of educating the administration about Title IX requirements and how the district could ensure their compliance with the federal law, these advocates successfully persuaded the board to add field hockey to their sports offerings.  In doing so, over 300 new participation opportunities were thus created for girls in the community.

A resounding win, certainly – but with an unexpected catch.  The athletes’ families would have to foot the bill.

Approved by the board but designated as a second tier sport in regard to funding, girl’s field hockey was to be the only single sex team not fully covered in the district’s athletic budget.  Schools may tier their sports but when they do, they must ensure that the benefits provided in each tier are equitably shared between male and female athletes. In this instance, each of these 300 new players was held responsible for covering her portion of the program’s equipment, uniforms, transportation and other start-up costs, which amounted to over $1,000 per girl.  Many of the schools resorted to creative fundraising to cover the costs but those who pushed for the inception of these teams knew that the fight wasn’t over – it was only fair that the same benefits granted to all other sports be equally provided for girls’ field hockey.

In the end, their persistence paid off.  With continued community activism, the school district moved to fully fund the field hockey program going forward, ensuring enhanced access to sports for all girls regardless of their ability to pay.  In expressing gratitude to the WSF’s Advocacy team, Maya’s mother said, “I don’t think we could’ve been so well educated and armed with information without the Women’s Sports Foundation’s support. With your organization’s guidance we were able to fight and win equality for our girls in our public school system.”

While Maya’s struggle was ultimately successful and resulted in more participation opportunities and a win for gender equity, her story illustrates a growing national trend of “pay-to-play,” wherein public schools impose fees for student athletes to participate in sports.  In the face of restricted budgets, districts are employing this model to subsidize the cost of athletics and make budget ends meet.   Although waivers are often in place for students with financial challenges, “pay-to-play” fees create a barrier that further disadvantages low-income students, potentially keeping them out of the game and the benefits of participation out of their reach.

Dedicated to creating leaders by providing girls access to sports, the Women’s Sports Foundation knows that girls who play sports exhibit more self-confidence, have lower rates of obesity and chronic illness and experience better educational outcomes than their sedentary peers.   Although schools are challenged to manage spending across many areas, we believe that sports are a fundamental element of education and should be accessible to all.


If you would like to make a donation in celebration of Title IX’s 45th Anniversary, please click here.


*Name changed to protect confidentiality