For some students, playing on a sports team can make the difference between success and failure in school. It can be the one thing that keeps them coming to school each day, motivates them to keep their grades up, or connects them to a caring adult in the building.
So, when a school cuts sports opportunities for any of its students, it’s unfortunate. When a school cuts opportunities for students who are already underrepresented in sports and activities, or otherwise disadvantaged, the consequences can be significant and it can raise potential civil rights issues.
That’s why the ACLU-WA intervened on behalf of families in Okanagon County when it learned of school district plans to eliminate its entire boys’ soccer program which is 80% – 90% Hispanic, without making a single budget cut to its other major sports such as football, basketball and baseball, which are over 90% white. The soccer program, which plays in the spring, is the least expensive per student of the major sports and results in the greatest number of scholarship opportunities for students in this school district.
However, the demographics of this community suggest that the parents of many of the soccer players are recent immigrants or migrant workers and less likely to be experienced or comfortable advocating with the school board on behalf of their sons’ team. Moreover, for many of these students, playing on the soccer team is their only connection to school outside the classroom. For these students, as for many others, playing on a school team can result in better grades, better college and career opportunities, lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and fewer discipline problems at school.
The ACLU-WA contacted the school district and explained the issues of fairness and discrimination that are raised by eliminating the only sport that attracts Hispanic students. At its most recent school board meeting, the district voted to reinstate the boys’ soccer team.
School districts throughout the state are struggling in these tough economic times and having to make difficult budget decisions, including trimming their athletic programs. Instead of cutting entire programs or teams, many schools have wisely and creatively found ways to reduce costs across their entire athletic programs and generate new sports revenues without cutting any teams. For examples and suggestions on how to maintains sports in tough economic times, check out this article by the Women’s Sports Foundation.