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Cheers for Title IX, boos for lawsuit

In its 39 years of existence, Title IX has accomplished 90 percent of its admirable goal of getting more females in public schools involved in sports. In trying to reach 100 percent, however, it's doing more harm than good.

Passed in 1972 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX declared, in part, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ... ."

While Title IX applies to all educational activities, it has come to be associated with school sports and the effort to ensure that female students have equal access to participate. It has been spectacularly successful in doing just that. A 2006 comprehensive study showed that women's participation in school sports had increased nearly nine-fold, from one in 27 girls in 1972 to one in three today. About half of all boys participated, the study showed.

Therein lies the rub for those for whom only an identical split of boys and girls is acceptable.

That kind of brain-locked thinking in recent years has resulted in schools dropping boys teams in order to even up the participation levels. And last week it resulted in a federal lawsuit accusing 60 Oregon high schools, including four in Jackson County, of failing to meeting Title IX standards.

In the perfect world, all students would be able to — and want to — participate in extra-curricular activities, including sports. In the real world, that doesn't happen. For any number of reasons — societal, financial, cultural and, yes, physical — far too many kids don't participate.

In that real world, more boys participate in sports. Yes, there are undoubtedly schools where girls are treated as second-class citizens in sports. But we can see no evidence that's the case locally, where North and South Medford, Crater and Phoenix high schools have been named in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, which includes 28 of Oregon's 31 largest school districts, the field would be level if Phoenix had 59 more girls participating, South 47 more, North 25 more and Crater 18 more.

We have a solution: Create football teams for girls. We say that, of course, tongue in cheek, but there's truth in the message because it is football that creates the disparity.

Other sports essentially equal out: There are boys and girls teams in soccer and basketball, boys baseball and girls softball, boys wrestling and girls volleyball and cross country, track, golf, tennis, skiing and water polo (and probably some we're forgetting) in which both boys and girls can participate in relatively equal numbers. Football is the deal-breaker because the team sizes at a large high school can be enormous; certainly there's nothing on the female side that approaches it.

Title IX true believers will tell you if schools made the effort, equal numbers of girls and boys would be participating. First of all, that ignores the football factor, but beyond that it doesn't pass the culture test. Whether the hardliners will admit it or not, sports appeal to a greater percentage of males than females. Statistics across the board back that up.

We are avid supporters of local girls sports and of all sports involving females. It's great that Americans will be sitting on their couches this morning cheering on the U.S. women as they try to beat Brazil and advance to the semifinals in the Women's World Cup. The success of that team and the rapid growth of women's sports in general is due to Title IX and for that it deserves a rousing cheer.

Cultural difficulties aside, schools should redouble their efforts to attract more female students — and they should not even consider cutting boys sports to create a balance; that is contrary to their mission as educators.

If Title IX deserves cheers, the Title IX true believers deserve boos. They live in a world of statistics, not the real world where their dogmatic absolutism is hurting schools and kids. Work with the school districts to encourage more female participation, absolutely. But don't try to punish schools that are making the effort to give all students a fair shot at making the team.