Student sections inside the gym get downright rowdy most Friday nights — after 7 p.m. that is. While students and others around Marin fork over a few dollars and get their hand stamped to watch a boys’ basketball game, just 90 minutes earlier only parents, siblings and a handful of players’ friends take to most girls games. Now, four months into the new school year, attendance at girls’ sporting events remains a fraction of those of the boys games, in spite of the success of many fall girls’ sports, according to Christina Amoroso, who’s in her ninth year as Athletic Director at Tam.
According to a new state-by-state ranking by the National Women’s Law Center, 28 percent of co-ed public high schools with interscholastic sports programs have what are considered to be “large” gender disparities in access to team sports. Fortunately, this is not a problem at Tam. It’s not that girls sports teams are lacking. In fact, “Even if a girl went out for our football team she could absolutely play,” Amoroso said. Whether it be solo competitions such as track and cross-country, varsity girls water polo, or girls basketball, female teams are dominant and successful, yet their game attendance remains significantly lower than for boys teams?
Students around campus have plenty of thoughts to why, but the answer is far from clear. What most can agree on, however, is that most sports, even those that cater to both genders, such as water polo, contain plenty of disparities in attendance. “There is definitely a lot more talk about boys water polo games, and boys definitely get a lot more attendance,” said sophomore Lily Chambers, a JV water polo player. As she and many others have observed, attendance rate has nothing to do with a team’s success. The boys’ water polo players have done very well this season, with JV winning MCALS and varsity NCS, but the girls’ teams have been racking up their fair share of wins, and came in third at MCALS. “Even though our team doesn’t look the best this year compared to the boys teams, even in the past when the girls have done better the boys still had bigger crowds. Winning is just a small factor. Even if the boys weren’t having a successful season, they would still have bigger audiences,” said junior Lila Mckinley, varsity water polo player.
This big audience can be found at almost every one of our football games. In an October Marin Catholic game, where Tam lost 56-0, success was not expected, due to Tam’s large loss against MC the year before. However, this didn’t seem to trouble the crowd, as there were still many Tam supporters who came to watch, most of whom were Tam students and friends of the players. “If you have been to a MC-Tam football game before, you were almost expecting a loss, but I think so many people went, just to see a good football game, a classic rivalry between our two teams,” said sophomore varsity football player Julian Holden. Others, like Chambers ascribe it to the popularity of football, an innately male sport, in the high school setting. “Football is a really all-American sport, and it’s almost an obligation to at least go see a game because it’s like the ‘high school experience,’” she said. Freshman track runner Summer Solomon echoed Chambers, saying, “Football is one of the most exciting games to watch, and it’s a game that guys have always played, that’s just how it has always been.”
But basketball is a different story. Not only do we have both female and male teams at Tam, but a girls team that has historically been more successful. So if their reputation precedes them, with the varsity girls winning MCALS last year and winning all three of their preseason games by a margin of 40, why can’t attendance keep up, and why are there so many more people at boys games? Even boys basketball players can agree that there is an obvious discrepancy, and a disappointing one at that. “A lot of people come to most of our home games, especially to ones against Redwood or MC. The crowds at these games are always crazy and the gym basically filled.” junior Jack Duboff, a varsity basketball player said. “The girls actually did better than us last year though, they won MCALS and they should win again this year given how talented they are.” This is also true in many of the other sports beside basketball. “I think it’s an unconscious bias,” Assistant Principal Leah Herrera said.
Varsity girls’ basketball coach Mike Evans also acknowledges the talent the girls’ teams harbor, along with the lack of recognition they have received. “Not many girls teams, including the best teams in the Bay Area, draw big crowds on their own,” said Evans. “It is unfortunate, and I can’t give you a reason why more people attend girls games but that’s just been my experience over the past 30 years of high school basketball.”
Could one reason be that both boys football and boys basketball are more “exciting?” It is an obvious fact that girls play a very different game than boys, but what does it take for a game to be considered exciting?
“It doesn’t matter how much we win, or how technically flawless our game was, the audience doesn’t care about either of those things,” sophomore basketball player Carly Toole said. Instead Toole believes they seek brute force and “manly” athleticism: perhaps a dunk or a violent shot block.
Ili Levine, a sophomore varsity basketball player, agrees, and believes that the girls teams are deemed second tier. “No matter how well we do, we don’t get the credit.” she said.
Is this where the blame lies? On the one hand, both interest and participation in organized sports is still a predominantly male thing, according to a survey done by Time Magazine. On the other, when any culture makes the effort to level the playing field of opportunity, female participation rises dramatically. In 1972, before the enactment of Title IX, the landmark law that ensured gender equality in educational opportunities, only 7 percent of high school athletes were girls. Today it’s 42 percent.
Some believe the discrepancy in support for male and female athletes is simply an unbalanced gender system in which men, taught to be the strong and sporty gender, play, while the girls cheer on the sidelines. One of these people is sophomore water polo player Jack Norton. “Why people go to less girl games is partially due to the idea that it is just normal in society for guys to be really into sports and for girls to be into other subjects,” Norton said. “It is a sad truth, but in this day and age the sports world is still a man’s world, and that’s not going to change until it is really taught that sports are not just made for the male gender.”
Many girls who have been on their teams for years agree, attributing this lack in attendance to pervasive stereotypes. “I think the contrasts between girls and boys sports originates in the gender discrepancy that comes up in society. We hear that women aren’t as strong as men, so we’ve taught ourselves to think that we can’t succeed like they can. This drives viewers away and decreases the enjoyment and team quality with the girls,” sophomore water polo player Tessa Pares said. “Football is a sport that oozes the idea of strength. We see it in the tackles, in the blocking, in the common injuries associated with the sport, but many fail to see the deeper beauty of a girls game.”
This sexism in the sports world reaches far beyond the gates of our campus, however. According to insidehoops.com, the attendance averages per game for five of the major NBA cities in the 2006-2007 season were extensively unbalanced. While the New York men’s teams had about 17,000 audience members, their respective WNBA teams had less than half that. Chicago’s had 22,000; their WNBA teams only 3,000. Professionally, it is even harder for women in the sports industry. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) estimates that in 2013, women’s sports received only 7 percent of coverage and 0.4 percent of the total value of commercial sponsorships. If there were more sponsorship and media coverage, some say, then women’s sport would be more popular. Media outlets and sponsors retort that if women’s sport attracted more interest in the first place then they would invest more time and money in it. All sides agree on what it takes to make a sport successful: a balance of consumer, media and commercial appeal.
But achieving this balance is just as hard in the high school setting. Even if there was a way to achieve total equality: if sports were divided up equally, if girls played football at Tam too, football coach Jon Black doubts that there would be as many supporters for them then there are for the boys. “The fact that Tam doesn’t have a girls’ football team is one thing, but if we were to have one I don’t think there’d be many supporters, besides those simply there to curb their curiosity,” he said. Some simply base this on the idea that the boys’ games tend to be more entertaining and the boys more vocal about their upcoming games.
“There is definitely less attendance at girls games. I think this is just because guys’ games are usually higher scoring and more fast-paced. Because of this the guys games might be more entertaining to a fan,” Duboff said.
“Boys tend to be more aggressive, so people just assume their game will be more intense,” Holden said. Holden himself says that he has never actually attended a girls’ game in any sport. “No one hyped them up like the boys games. I always hear about the big boys’ basketball game but not the big girls’ volleyball game, for example.”
Although the student body doesn’t do a good job about spreading the word about girls games, the problem is more deeply rooted, according to Norton. Levine agreed, hinting the blame at Tam itself. “A lot of times it’s the school’s fault. they often cater to the guys games, putting them later in the day so that they can get more attendance compared to the girls. Overall I just think there is less dedication from the school to the girls teams, and for the most part they prioritize the guys sports because they think that is what the public wants to see.” Pares concurs, saying, “the boys traditionally get more attention, they have cheerleaders, they are advertised more, and this attention gives them more drive and encourages them to do better, so they often put more of themselves into the game.” This extra bit of themselves is what Tessa accredits their successes to, and their overall enthusiasm for their team.
Is the school really to blame? In a place like Mill Valley one would think that the ‘tradition’ of boys being prioritized would be long gone. And many do, believing that the idea of sexism in high school sports is just that, something that doesn’t physically exist. “No matter how much people would like to believe that it’s about sexism, it’s really not. I don’t think it goes much deeper than simple entertainment reasons,” junior water polo player Sawyer Shine said. According to Amoroso there may be some reason for the earlier game times for girls. “In the last couple of years our basketball coach could not make it to the later games and that is why girls basketball moved to an earlier time,” she said. Coach Evans agrees, saying that in fact schools are taking steps to promote girls games. “During MCALS the girls varsity team plays before the boys at the same site so they can get more of a crowd during the fourth quarter of their games as people are arriving for the boys varsity games,” he said. “It has nothing to do with whether or not the school caters to boys games”.
No matter how much the blame is tossed around, however, Ili Levine will still be playing a beautiful game of basketball at 6:30 for only her parents to see. So whether or not the fault lies in the school, or in the girls teams lack of vocal enthusiasm, or in tradition, or in the “cheerleaders and jocks” high school stereotype, we’re a little bit closer to bridging the gap. “Just come thirty minutes before a boys game, sit down in a stall, and come see for yourself how much our girls team has to offer,” Levine said. “I promise you won’t be disappointed.”