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Parents up in arms over unified Islander booster club proposal

A number of parents gathered to discuss the proposal of a unified Mercer Island High School booster club on Jan. 15, with Title IX education equity consultant Linda Mangle leading the discussion. Yet Mangle did not get far in her presentation before parents jumped in to challenge her point.

“She didn’t even get to finish her Power Point because parents started challenging her statistics,” said booster club parent Christine Poli, who attended the workshop. “We had some good points to raise. And we raised discussion over these points.”

Mangle, a private consultant hired to conduct last year’s Title IX report, organized the workshop with Athletic Director Craig Olson and Dean of Athletics Jeff Lowell. More than a dozen parents —nearly all of whom run MIHS booster clubs — attended the meeting, eager to hear Mangle’s take on a slightly controversial subject.

As host of the Title IX workshop, which was sponsored by the Women’s Sports Foundation and the ACLU, Mangle’s main purpose was to inform MIHS parents about the often slippery rules of Title IX and how booster clubs can become problematic offenders.

“Craig Olson wanted to raise awareness to the requirements of title IX. He wants booster clubs to set the school’s compliance,” Mangle said. “I did an overview of the law. I talked specifically about booster clubs’ responsibility for compliance.”

Nearly a year after Mangle completed her Title IX report, the district has taken strides to bring its athletic program up to Title IX standards. One effort, in particular, is reorganizing athletic booster clubs, which currently raise more money for boys sports than girls.

Earlier this year, Olson proposed the idea of creating a unified booster club to get around this problem. A number of meetings — last week’s included — have been scheduled to discuss this option with MIHS parents.

Many parents are opposed to the idea of a single-opperating booster club, especially those who have seen years of success through their clubs —- take basketball or football, for example.

This fact was made clear at last week’s meeting.

“Most of the people there were against one booster club,” Poli said, adding that the main reason was because parents are invested in their own child’s sport. “I’ve raised over $75,000 for boys basketball, and I’ll be honest; you wouldn’t get my services at all if these funds were earmarked for another sport.”

But Lowell said that most parents at the meeting were there not to argue, but to be informed.

“Right now, people are still hesitating to make judgment one way or another,” the aquatics coach said, adding that the reality of a unified booster club is months away. “We’re still just in the planning stages.”

Mangle was also understanding when it came to parents’ concerns. Yet she maintained her ground.

“The district’s really trying to do its earnest best [to meet Title IX compliance], but well intenetiond parents can create problems,” the consultant said. “I think there’s much greater awareness now, but it’s not just being aware. It’s about understanding Title IX and reminding people that they can do what they want with private programs, but [booster clubs] are part of the public education system.”

Despite the meeting’s dissonance, Poli said Mangle did reassure parents on the overall purpose of Title IX, which is to defend equality in sports.

“I think some parents have lost sight. Title IX is not about pinning girls’ sports against boys’, it’s making sure all girls’ teams get the funding they need. And this was cleared up in the meeting,” Poli said.

Yet the mother of two MIHS athletes — one girl, one boy — remains adamant that a unified booster club is not the answer.

“I think it will cause a lot of behind the scenes money changing hands without the school knowing,” she said. “It almost breeds illegal conduct.”

The district plans to revisit the booster-club issue in additional meetings this year.

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