It’s Tough For Low-Income Kids, Especially Girls, To Participate In Sports – Forbes

For all the talk about about how kids in sports are pampered (participation trophies, anyone?), there is a more pressing issue that is the opposite of children being spoiled.

Half of public school children are from families poor enough to enable them to be eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, and they don’t have a lot of money to spend on travel teams or even school sports, nor the luxury of needing a participation trophy not awarded to teach them life isn’t fair. Already, the wealthiest schools are the most likely to win state championships, and despite sports’ presumed role as an equalizer, coming from poverty hurts chances of getting an athletic scholarship or pro career.

In fact, just getting these kids to participate is a problem, has been for years, and appears to be getting worse. Here are a few recent items to remind us that children from low-income families are continuously facing hurdles in order to participate in sports:

First, the Erie, Pa., school board, in a bid to chop $1.5 million from a $10 million deficit, on Jan. 5 voted unanimously to consolidate all three of its high school sports programs into one, beginning in 2017-18. The move is subject to the approval of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which denied a previous attempt at a consolidation limited to a few specific sports. However, the district says it needs to consolidate sports to save money and make them more competitive in a city where the declining population is getting poorer.

Consolidation of programs has become fairly common in urban and rural areas where falling populations and increasing poverty are putting pressure on participation, though it’s not clear that because struggling programs become more “competitive,” more kids are trying out. In fact, one challenge is getting kids to the practice site, if it’s not right at the school.

Next, the site GOOD, which is working with the retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods on a youth sports participation initiative, recently released an article detailing how girls from low-income families, in particular, are lacking sports opportunities. It cities various studies to show that while the sports gender-gap is falling, that’s not happening so much at schools with heavily minority populations, which tend to be poorer than those that are heavily white. From GOOD:

Translating into real numbers, at heavily white high schools, there are 58 available spots on girls sports teams for every 100 students, while at heavily minority high schools there are just 25 spots per 100 students. Put simply, girls of color receive the fewest opportunities to play.

Design: Bailey Brautigan, Forbes Staff

Design: Bailey Brautigan, Forbes Staff

No doubt, Dick’s is concerned about this in part because the more kids they can get to play, the more sporting equipment it can sell. I have to say, I was a bit surprised at Dick’s name atop a very pointed jab at the incoming Trump administration’s proposed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, a staunch advocate of school choice and a highly influential education reform voice in Michigan, who GOOD doesn’t think will do anything to solve the problem — who could, actually, make it worse.

Continuing to increase investment in girls sports at all schools is important. But if we are truly committed to making youth sports accessible to girls—in the face of an incoming secretary of education whose policy preferences exasperated school segregation in Michigan—we can’t separate interscholastic athletic inequities from segregation.

Finally, there is a case out of London, Ky.,  that involves a family fighting to allow a homeless student to be allowed on the basketball team. The family took in the student, and thankfully has the means to support him and get him involved in sports. For legal purposes, the school classifies the student, still, as homeless. Here is Courthouse News Service to sort out the complaint from the family:

“After making the basketball team, however, S.S. and J.S. were informed that the defendants would not permit Q.W. to play…due to a policy…that prohibits students from participating in sports unless the students’ parents live in the school district,” the complaint says.

The Laurel County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Doug Bennett, who are named as defendants in the case, allegedly told S.S. and J.S. there are no exceptions to the rule. [He nor the district commented for the story.]

The couple eventually contacted the Kentucky Department of Education, which confirmed that the school’s policy violates the McKinney-Vento Act, a law ensuring that homeless students “do not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities.”

The default position should be for anyone in sports — administrators, coaches, leagues — to find ways to get kids who want to play, able to play, regardless of income.

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