Practice starts at 4:30 p.m. for the Mountain View High girls soccer team, but coach Alyssa Gentle stands on the field at 4 p.m. with a group of 40 players already huddled around her.
It’s Sept. 27, and Gentle quickly addresses her second and third junior varsity teams before dispatching them to a pair of 40-yard long fields in front of the school.
Soccer teams in the 5A and 4A Southern Idaho Conferences normally field only varsity and junior varsity teams. But after a Title IX investigation in the West Ada School District in 2011, Mountain View added a third team three years ago and a fourth this fall, a first in the Treasure Valley.
Gentle’s varsity and JV clubs arrive 30 minutes later, and she must spend the first half hour of practice talking about their previous games and their next matches until they can squeeze onto the field.
“So that’s cutting into JV and varsity. It’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to the girls out here,” Gentle said, gesturing to her third- and fourth-tier teams. “It’s a nightmare.”
That nightmare has become the new normal in the West Ada School District, which is still under monitoring due to the 2011 Title IX investigation.
That summer, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights received an anonymous, 600-page complaint against 78 Idaho school districts. It alleged 100 Idaho high schools were violating the landmark 1972 law that ensures, among other rights, equal athletic opportunities to males and females in schools receiving federal funds.
Idaho’s complaint followed identical charges against more than 100 school districts in Washington and 60 districts in Oregon earlier that year. The complaints listed several grievances but focused on the participation gap between males and females.
For example, while 48 percent of West Ada students were female in 2009, only 37.2 percent of the students who participated in athletics were female, leaving a gap of 10.8 percent, according to federal data. The percentage ranked in the middle of the pack for Idaho’s school districts, but because of West Ada’s size, the complaint claimed 397 girls were being robbed of the opportunity to compete in sports.
West Ada’s own data put its participation gap at 6.9 percent in 2009, or 275 students.
The Office of Civil Rights cleared every Idaho school district of the allegations that November except West Ada, instead opting to monitor the state’s largest school district for the next two years. In the summer of 2014, it decided to continue its monitoring.
“It was implied (it was) because of the size of our district and being able to monitor five schools with one contact,” said Scott Stuart, the district’s athletic director.
HOW CAN WEST ADA MEET TITLE IX REQUIREMENTS?
Schools can satisfy Title IX in one of three ways:
▪ The percentage of male and female athletes are substantially proportionate to their population in the school. For example, if a school is 60 percent female, 60 percent of its athletes should be female.
▪ Show a history and continuing practice of expanding participation opportunities for the underrepresented gender.
▪ Show it is meeting the interests of the underrepresented gender.
Any school fielding a football team will struggle to meet the first option. So West Ada has focused on the second and third options.
Since the Office of Civil Rights began requiring the district to submit reports twice a year during the 2012-13 school year, West Ada has instituted a no-cut policy for girls competing in athletics in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades. Coaches can cut seniors who don’t make varsity, while boys programs are free to cut as many players as they see fit.
The policy allows the district to continue expanding opportunities for girls, and by not cutting any girls who make it through tryouts, the district can show it is meeting the interest in those sports.
The district also conducts a survey every three years of its female students to determine their interest and ability in sports the school does not offer.
It is the current reality, and I don’t know about the light at the end of the tunnel. I have not been informed of when this continued monitoring will cease.”
Scott Stuart, West Ada School District Athletic Director
IS IT WORKING?
West Ada’s data shows the gap between the percentage of female students in the district and female athletes in its programs hit a high of 12 percent in the 2011-12 school year as the district implemented pay-to-play fees and cut freshman teams.
Since instituting the no-cut policy the following year, the gap dropped to 6.8 percent last school year.
The largest increases have come in girls soccer, where the total players in the district swelled from 173 in 2009 to 276 this fall, according to Stuart’s records. To handle the growth, Mountain View, Rocky Mountain, Eagle and Centennial added a second JV team, while Mountain View added a third JV team this fall.
To further narrow the gap, Stuart said the district is bringing back freshman girls basketball teams this winter, giving each program varsity, JV, sophomore and freshman teams. The district is also trying to add freshman softball in the spring, and it is considering promoting girls lacrosse from a club sport to full varsity status.
Budget constraints and Title IX implications prevent the district from restoring freshman boys teams or bringing boys club teams into the fold.
“We will only be focusing on increasing the participation and opportunities for the underrepresented gender,” Stuart said.
The no-cut policy has come with growing pains.
With two teams on Mountain View’s practice field and two more on the way, Gentle said she had 95 soccer players show up to summer workouts, where she leaned on conditioning to convince fringe players to drop out of the program.
A lot of kids probably got missed because you’ve got so many fields. We had essentially 11v11s on three different fields with subs. So some girls weren’t subbing in and some talent could have gotten missed.”
Alyssa Gentle, Mountain View girls soccer coach
The Mavericks got down to 85 players by tryouts, but Gentle said the district wouldn’t approve the money to hire coaches for four teams until after tryouts ended.
“Personally, if there are enough girls that want to participate in soccer, we should come up with resources to be sure we can,” said Rocky Mountain girls soccer coach Donal Kaehler, who had 87 players attend tryouts. “But now we’re running into budget issues and money issues. That’s a whole different problem altogether.”
The district pays for the extra coaching salaries, but additional costs — from uniforms to equipment to referees — are each program’s responsibility.
“We had to order three new sets of balls, so 25 balls, which runs me about $600,” Gentle said. “And then I had to outfit them — there are 40 of them — for the second and third JV teams, so I had to get 80 uniform tops and bottoms. That alone, it was just a huge expense.”
Every girl in each school’s soccer program pays the same $110 pay-to-play fee regardless of what team they make or how many games they play. The district’s varsity and junior varsity teams play 13-to-15 game schedules. The second JV teams play other second JV teams within their district for a guarantee of eight games, including Mountain View’s second JV taking on its third JV team.
“It’s positive and it’s negative,” Gentle said. “It shows a lot for the school that girls want to come back, and they’re not choosing to go play club. They want to stay a part of the program.
“But at the same time, with scheduling conflicts, can we get them enough games? Can we get them on to practice? Is it fair? I don’t know.”