We reported this past weekend on the City School District seeing a nearly 40 percent increase in students playing high school sports. The number of teams have increased. Spending is up. And the question was asked:
How many of the students participating are girls?
Equity is a critical component of this conversation. Not just for equal opportunity in sport, which is important. But in urban districts like Rochester — struggling with all the obstacles and ills that can push or pull on a child and against their success — sport is a vehicle to keep students on pace to graduate and, quite literally, keep them in the game.
The most recent numbers on gender that the City School District had to share were estimates for 2013-14. The district only began tracking athletic participation last year, and still is working out the kinks to arrive at solid numbers. More on that later.
This is what we have for now:
Back in 2013-14, there were boys teams in 18 sports, girls teams in 17, and co-ed teams in nine, including golf, track and bowling. Participation favors boys. The district breakdown is 14 percent co-ed, 50 percent boys, 36 percent girls. Co-ed is a mixed bag, with some sports favoring boys, others girls and others — like bowling — being even. Football is a major factor in the numbers. The district has added modified teams and is building up JV, each counting 50 players. There are girls here, too, but very few.
The district is adding girls lacrosse and building its cheerleading programs to improve the balance, said Carlos Cotto, the district’s executive director for health, physical education and athletics. Basketball also is a focus but a co-ed elementary school program, and two summer clinics, while seemingly successful are not yet synced to provide a singular pipeline.
For some perspective, we can look to the Buffalo public schools, which have been using sports camps of late as a tool to build interest among younger kids with the hope they will stay involved, and thus stay in school, as they get older.
Aubrey Lloyd has been Buffalo’s director of athletics since 2010. In his first year, Buffalo moved from only playing Buffalo schools in football to competing in Section VI against schools outside the district. With that came other rules and regulations, which meant more expense for compliance. Over five years, the district spent $1.8 million to upgrade its fitness facilities. The district added girls JV volleyball, girls golf (hearing golf was likely to bring scholarships). Cross country launched in 2006. A full modified sports program launched.
“We have state-of-the-art fitness facilities in 13 of 16 high schools,” Lloyd said. “We partnered with a local fitness organization and they provided us with a curriculum.”
Buffalo, too, has seen its numbers rise. Here are their statistics with total participation and the breakdown for male/female
- 2007-08: 3,402 (males 53.1%/females 46.9%)
- 2008-09: 3,844 (males 51.5%/females 48.5%)
- 2009-10: 4,288 (males 50.4%/females: 49.6%)
- 2010-11: 4,386 (males 51.3%/females 48.7%)
- 2011-12: 4,455 (males 51.9%/females 48.1%)
- 2012-13: 4,502 (males 52.6%/females 47.4%)
- 2013-14: 4,473 (males 52.6%/females 47.4%)
The estimated 34 percent increase since 2007-08 came mostly in the first two years. The bump of roughly 400 students heading into 2009-10 was almost entirely football, Aubrey said. The athletics program “is light years ahead of where we were 12-13 years ago,” he said. “But we haven’t grown from there.”
“We have seen, since 2005, our budget has gone up and has come back down.” Any reductions have come in non-mandated items, shaving equipment budgets and the like but not cutting programs (except modified volleyball).
Said Aubrey: “What we really want to do is give our kids … the option (to) have their sport take them (to college).”
So Buffalo is doing what Rochester is doing: Gathering the data.
Aubrey wants to track not just his student-athletes’ GPA and attendance, but if they go to college, and if they go to a D-1 school. A test group last year with football showed attendance was higher than the district-wide average. Same with GPAs. That Buffalo and Rochester are on similar tracks, although at different points, is not coincidence.
“It has gone from Carlos (Cotto), myself, Chris Hodge out of Syracuse getting together at an athletic director conference in Saratoga, we thought the issues we were facing were just in our own school district. We realized it’s all across the state,” he said, and across the nation. “I have these guys on speed dial. I’m not there yet … as far as getting all the data together. (But) I think I am part of a bigger team.”
The data can help sell the program, both to school boards controlling budgets and parents weighing time and, possibly, expense. In Rochester, Cotto wants to use the data to track everything. GPA, attendance (the district claims that the aggregate attendance of student-athletes was over 92 percent last year), and citizenship (things like suspensions and other matters). He also wants to know if student-athletes are on track to graduate, if they graduate, their ethnicity, gender, what kids are participating and what kids are not – then to figure out how the district might fill the gaps.
“It’s using sport as a way to keep them focused … as a leverage piece,” Cotto said.
And that brings us to the sports performance combine that the Democrat and Chronicle is helping to organize, along with UR Medicine Sports Medicine and the Rochester City School District. One focus is encouraging girls to participate.
The combine will provide city student-athletes a chance to interact with and get advice from top UR doctors and trainers, with the goal of improving performance, nutrition, and preventing injury. That means helping them to excel on the court or the field, both now and later in life so they stay active, helping them stay healthy by understanding nutrition’s role in that, and helping them avoid injury that could sideline them — now, and in the future.
It’s about keeping them in the game.