District, booster clubs move toward Title IX compliance

The Mercer Island School District is continuing to work toward compliance with Title IX after last year’s review found inequities, including funds raised by booster clubs for various sports.

Mercer Island High School Athletic Director Craig Olson said that while they are making strides in the right direction, more work can and will be done.

Throughout meetings between the district and the Booster Club Committee, Olson said MIHS has added several coaches to specific programs, mostly girls teams where there had been an unbalance in the past.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to get done this year,” said Olson. “We’ve made great strides in educating people on Title IX.”

Olson and the administration met recently to discuss next steps and how to proceed. They have options on how to proceed; the trick is figuring out the best way to benefit everyone, Olson said.

However, he said, there is still work to be done with the booster clubs. Part of the problem is that there is a variety of different groups which raise money, and not all are considered booster clubs. While there are a large number of clubs which are considered traditional booster clubs, Olson said other groups raising money for athletic teams take on a variety of shapes. For cross country and track, a community group gathers together to support the teams and raise money. For other sports, it is simply parents writing checks if money is needed. According to Olson, there are seven fundraising groups for fall sports — three out of the five for winter sports and five out of eight for spring sports.

The football booster club has a goal of raising $20,000 to $25,000 for the program for the upcoming season, according to Tana Reed, the club’s co-president. The girls basketball booster club, according to the group’s Web site, is looking to raise $30,000 this year in efforts to boost the team to the success of the boys basketball team.

Christine Poli, a member of the boys basketball booster club, said the group has around $10,000 to $15,000 in savings, with a goal of raising about $4,000 this year to supplement the high school and middle school programs. The money pays for scholarships to send students to the various holiday tournaments which the team competes in, as well as to pay the middle school coaches and help the high school assistant coaches.

“We don’t ever want to ask them not to raise money,” Olson said. Earlier in the year, one possibility was creating a unified booster club for all sports to help solve the equity problem. The idea was met with a backlash by booster club supporters. Now, as time has settled the ideas into the collective conscious of the Islanders, many of the booster clubs are waiting to hear what will happen next.

Tana Reed, co-president of the Mercer Island Football Booster Club, said they have yet to hear anything specific about possible changes. She said the group is continuing to fundraise for the fall, keeping in mind what has previously been discussed.

“We’re proceeding judiciously, and we bear in mind what we’ve been told,” Reed said. Funds raised help pay for additional coaches, equipment and scholarships for football players to attend camps in the summer. Money raised by the girls basketball booster club is for similar items, as the group works to strengthen the program through feeder teams made up of fifth- through eighth-grade girls. The group’s Web site said the booster club has accomplished part of this goal by hiring experienced coaches for the younger teams and is looking into equipment which will also help with player abilities.

Olson said that he knows some parents understand why a change may need to take place, but he felt that others who disagreed in the beginning do not have a compelling enough reason for the change yet. Technically, Olson said, once the money is handed over to the school, it is public funds and the district needs to make sure that it is distributed as evenly as possible.

Poli said she hoped the community does not lose sight of what Title IX is really about, giving opportunities to athletes and ensuring that, despite gender, those opportunities are available.

One of the main compliance issues that the district faced was that the program offerings differed between the girls and boys teams, said Olson. Historically, boys teams have had a higher percentage of participation than the girls, and despite attempts to add girls teams, it has been difficult to sustain them.

Overall, Poli said that as a parent of athletes and a member of a booster club, she can see both sides and thinks there needs to be “a certain level of mutual respect” no matter what the organization, team or gender. She said her daughter is on the girls swim team and what is important to Poli, as a parent, is that the girls have the same access to the pool, coaches and practice time as the boys, which they do.

“That’s what we have to look at,” Poli said of ensuring equality between the teams.

Another issue involved coaching, as some assistant coaching positions were paid for by funds raised by the various sports booster clubs. Olson said the district gave the go-ahead earlier in the year to hire more coaches for girls teams in the hopes of balancing the inequity. But the district’s ability to pay for extra coaches may change, depending on the future financial situation. The district is facing a $1.6 million deficit for next year; however, there are no major changes planned in the realm of athletics at this time.

“This is our first year of really attacking it, and we will continue to, but staffing changes will have an affect,” Olson said of cuts within the athletic department.

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