Equality still isn't reliable, even for the best

Benson's principal showcases how easy it is to undervalue girls sports
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher

When legistlation known as Title IX passed through Congress in 1972, it brought athletics into a new state, one where men and women, boys and girls, were consistently moved toward an equal playing field in terms access and respect. You only have to look at OSAA records to follow the results.

Prior to 1972, girls played for a state title in four sports - swimming, track and field, golf and tennis - all of which remain individual in nature. Team sports didn't exist. Then Title IX hit.

In 1974, the OSAA added girls state title events for cross country and soccer. Basketball added girls tournaments in 1976, and volleyball got its own state tournament in 1977. Softball showed up in 1979.

In the past five decades, the OSAA has done an admirable job of making boys and girls sports equal to the point it offers girls titles in wrestling. It didn't take long for coaches, especially men, to realize they could cram hardcore activities into the routines of their girls athletes and finish a season thinking they had just coached a bunch of boys, only they were girls. The seasons played out the same in terms of how a team achieved success on and off the field, and how it determined success to begin with.

Title IX still gets a headline or two these days, but it's ingrained in society enough that most public schools don't need to have legal action directed at them to see a solution and make it happen. And, yet, even the best of people can overlook the basics of Title IX, and glide right back into the days where boys had both a mile and two-mile state final, while girls just ran a mile.

Take Curtis Wilson, principal at Benson High School - and reigning Oregon High School Principal of the Year, and the girls soccer program, which he lobbied to move to the varsity level this fall, but accepted a decision to leave it at the junior varsity level for another year.

When the decision to hold the team to the junior varsity was made in January, Wilson very easily could have pushed for the move to varsity based simply on equality. Benson has a varsity boys soccer team, and a willing group of experienced girls ready to play at the varsity level, which would put all of the school's sports at that level. That move had Title IX's basics all over it, especially with the program being able to field two teams - thus seperating the top players from among those student/athletes.

But, Wilson went along with PIL athletic director Marshall Haskins' view that those experienced players simply weren't experienced enough based on the schedule they played in fall. Even though more than half the starting line-up might be seniors in fall, the program needed another season of preparation to be ready for Class 6A.

Put another way, looking seven months into the future, Haskins could have basically said all those experienced girls still weren't going to be good enough to be competitive with even the worst of teams at Class 6A. But, they would be good enough in another year after playing a better schedule of JV teams this fall.

When the news got to Benson coach Antoinette Olivas, she saw it as two losses - that the district made the decision it did, and the principal went along with it.

Since then, the team has truly lost a third time in that Wilson has continually sided with Haskins and the importance of winning on the field ahead of the value of students at his school representing that school as the best in their sport regardless of the outcome on a field.

That the girls soccer program has lost a fourth time is not hard to argue considering Wilson's recent experience with basically the same situation, only the sport was football - a sport for boys at the school.

In 2016, Wilson lobbied and got Benson's football team to move to varsity after a year of JV action. But, the team played as an independent meaning it couldn't qualify for the playoffs and mostly played Class 5A teams or those from Vancouver, Wash.

The 2017 season, again playing as an independent team, opened with a huge issue, though, as the program didn't have enough players to field a team when September arrived. Wilson and Haskins held a meeting with coaches and parents to discuss whether to just cancel the season. They figured out there were going to be enough players available, though, just not for the first game. After forfeiting the opener, the Techmen played out their next eight games and actually won two of them.

The season played out with just a varsity team, and did so the past season meaning any student who showed up, regardless of class or experience, qualified for varsity play after nine practices.

Playing at the JV level should give the Benson girls soccer team a much better chance of being competitive or winning in games, but it won't be against the other school's best team. Looking at the football program, Wilson and Haskins deemed varsity play to be important enough for the school to absorb huge losses because the losses were at the top level.

Both Haskins and Wilson will promote they're supportive of the Benson girls soccer program pointing to the two-year plan to move to varsity in 2020. But, it also showcases they've basically just begun to recognize the program as having any importance after three years of JV or JVII play. And that's going four decades backward, something Wilson and Haskins have spent the past four months clinging onto.

 

 

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