Gloversville reaches deal in sports gender equity case
GLOVERSVILLE The Gloversville Enlarged School District is mowing the grass on its hockey and soccer field to a precise height of 1 1⁄2 inches.
And a focus on scheduling will ensure members of the girls’ varsity softball team get a chance to play games at night on a lighted field.
The district on Sept. 27 signed off on an agreement with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights that school officials say will ensure the district is complying with Title IX, the federal law mandating equal opportunities for male and female student-athletes.
District Superintendent Michael B. Vanyo issued a news release this week highlighting the recent agreement, which follows a complaint lodged with the federal government in 2011.
Karen Hogan, who at the time was a member of the Girls Softball Booster Club, filed the complaint after her daughter was disciplined for an allegation of foul language. Hogan told The Daily Gazette in 2011 her daughter was hit in the knee by a field hockey stick and was accused of swearing — an accusation she denied.
She said strained relations between her daughter and school athletic staff were the result of booster club members complaining the district’s softball facilities were inferior.
Hogan did not return messages left Tuesday and Wednesday.
Vanyo, who wasn’t leading the district at the time the complaint was filed, said he believes the district is putting its best cleats forward to make sure student-athletes — both boys and girls — have decent facilities.
“Athletics is a big part of the school experience,” he said.
Sports not only provide students with healthy activity, but they also provide the experience of working within the framework of a team. Sporting events also bring students and their parents together after school hours, fostering a sense of community, he said.
Vanyo said he hadn’t figured any detailed cost estimate of the 18-month process that followed the complaint. For more than a year, federal inspectors investigated the district, interviewing coaches, inspecting equipment and touring athletic fields.
At the close of the investigation, Vanyo said he’s confident the district is providing a fair shake for all its student-athletes.
Hundreds of pages of documents, he said, were boiled down into the agreement with the federal government that lays out three commitments:
u The girls’ varsity softball team will get an opportunity to play night games on a lighted field.
u The softball fields will be monitored to ensure sufficient drainage.
u The athletic field used by the girls’ field hockey team and girls’ and boys’ varsity soccer teams will maintain an “appropriate playing surface” — grass height of 1 to 1.5 inches.
During a tour of the sports fields at the high school and middle school buildings Wednesday, Athletic Director Michael DeMagistris said the district has made strides in improving its facilities. There were plans for improvements to the softball field about a year before the complaint was filed, but the district was in the process of cutting staff, so spending on sports was on the back burner.
Since then, however, the district overhauled the field behind the middle school that’s now used as the varsity softball field. A surveyor was called in to do a detailed survey of the site, and the entire infield was removed. A drainage system was installed beneath the field and 150 tons of “infield mix” was brought in to top it off and new sod was installed.
The improvements, according to the district, bring the field into compliance with the standards of the National Federation of High School Sports.
DeMagistris said the district is keeping the grass at the other field, used for night games but not practice, at 1 1⁄2 inches instead of 1 inch. It’s hard to keep grass alive when it’s cut to just 1 inch, he said.
As for scheduling games under the lights, he said he does not know what benefit the experience provides students.
Ultimately, Vanyo said, he believes the district is demonstrating its equal concern for boys and girls.
“We feel that our girls programs as well as our boys programs are equally as important. That’s key. The school district wants to have equivalent opportunities for girls and boys,” he said.