Mix field access with youth athletics and throw in a claim of gender discrimination for good measure, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a classic New York City local sports controversy. Like many, this one simply refuses to cool. It just keeps simmering.
In January, the Department of Education decided to switch the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) girls’ soccer season from the spring to the fall, resolving a standoff between the department and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) that included the threat of a lawsuit from three high school players alleging a violation of Title IX, a federal law mandating non-discrimination in educational programs.
Though the move helped the Department of Education sidestep a lawsuit, it found itself facing a storm of protest as a result, and many parents, players, coaches and administrators still feel upset.
“We are totally against it, and 90 percent of the kids and coaches are against it,” said Martin Jacobson, the athletic director and the coach of both the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams at Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the Upper West Side.
Jacobson, who has helped his boys’ squad win 11 of the past 13 city championships, is hardly alone. Though the issue is volatile enough that many athletic directors and coaches contacted by the West Side Spirit declined to discuss the matter, the general reaction has been negative.
The overarching issue is one of field space. Girls’ soccer has been a spring sport in the PSAL (though not in private and parochial sports leagues) for the past 28 years, and the typical argument for this arrangement is that it helps balance field availability between fall and spring. Because New York perennially lacks enough fields to satisfy the game and practice demands of myriad school, college, club and recreational users, the hope was that boys’ soccer and football would have the fall and girls’ soccer, baseball and softball would take the spring.
But three players—Christina Angione of defending champion Beacon, Hannah Anousheh of Bronx Science and School of the Future’s Alyssa Ward—felt that the untraditional parameters of the PSAL season were discriminatory because they coincided with the playing season of more elite club and travel teams and also provided colleges with only three years to evaluate high school athletes before making recruitment offers. Together with the NYCLU, they prodded the Department of Education to make the switch.
“I had to choose between playing for my high school team and joining the Olympic Development Program,” Angione said in an NYCLU press release after the change was announced. “I decided to play for my high school, because I enjoy the school spirit and being with my friends, but it cost me a unique opportunity to develop my skills and demonstrate my game to college scouts. Boys don’t face that roadblock.”
The argument against the switch focuses on the disruptions that it will cause; and again, field availability is a leading issue.
“Right now it’s a problem,” Pat Santamaria, the head coach of both soccer teams at Hunter College High School, said. “Anytime you go out to a park, it’s very difficult to find a small patch of land to practice. A lot of time we just end up not practicing at all.”
Other subjects include increased demands on officials and coaches. Twice as many referees and linesmen will be required to oversee games next fall, and many doubt whether enough can be found. Some coaches speculate that the result will be either fewer games or an adjustment of the standard three officials per game. Many PSAL coaches also draw double duty, coaching both girls’ and boys’ teams. They will be forced to choose one or the other, and athletic directors will have to find new head coaches. Jacobson and Santamaria, for example, coach both teams at their schools, and they are dismayed at the prospect of abandoning one of them.
“I really love my girls,” Jacobson said. “It’s not easy for me to give them up.
Jacobson added: “I think it’s going to be a logistical nightmare and that there won’t be enough qualified officials or qualified coaches. The availability of fields is already an extremely difficult situation.”
Many girls face a tough decision as well. For example, those already playing fall sports like volleyball or swimming will have to choose between these and soccer. Some athletic directors said this could cause some teams to fold because of player shortages. Seven of the 21 girls listen on the Hunter soccer roster, for example, also played fall sports this school year, according to the PSAL website. Many players at other local schools are facing similar dilemmas: two at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, six at LaGuardia, five at Stuyvesant, two at Julia Richman and three at Environmental Studies. There are six at Beacon, but the head coach there, Kevin Jacobs, support the move.
“I think there’s a history of second-class status for girls’ soccer,” he said. “Girls’ soccer is growing rapidly. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten support, and playing in the spring certainly places limits on that growth. Shifting seasons doesn’t necessarily solve that problem. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that, and it may even create more limits on the growth of the sport than there are currently. I’d only point out that the claims of equity by the PSAL are not necessarily true.”
The Department of Education declined to make anyone from the PSAL available for comment, saying planning for the season was still in the early stages and it was too premature to discuss.
In the meantime, despite all the objections, most coaches and athletic directors have resigned themselves to the switch and are trying to sort out the many logistical hurdles.
“In the end, I support the parents who brought the lawsuit, but I want to emphasize that my biggest disappointment is with the city, whether that’s the PSAL or higher up,” Jacobs said. “I wish they had been more imaginative in finding a solution to this problem.”
Trackback from your site.