Some SoCal high schools face gender differences in sports. Here's how others have changed that

Students and administrators point to recognition and relationships among the ways to close participation gaps.

ByAnabel Munoz and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Here's how some schools are trying to close gender gaps in sports
Five decades after Title IX, one in 10 Southern California high schools still may have significant gender differences in sports participation. Students and administrators point to recognition and relationships among the ways to close gaps.

POMONA, Calif. (KABC) -- Iledza Rodriguez grew up in Pomona and started playing soccer at just 4 years old.

She said it was her father who got her into it, and she's glad he did.

"I go into the field and just start shooting. And I just think it's my therapy in a way, my home," she said.

Rodriguez will play at Citrus College in Glendora in the fall after graduating from Ganesha High School, where she ranked second in the nation for most goals scored in the 2021-22 winter season.

Ganesha is a predominately Latino, lower-income school in Pomona with higher-than-average sports participation - especially among female student-athletes.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection shows girls in Southern California make up about 44% of all athletes at high schools, and about 49% of all students as of 2018.

At Ganesha High School, the self-reported federal data shows girls make up nearly 56% of all athletes at the school, and Ganesha's own, more recent numbers, show a similar pattern.

"If the girl's soccer did something good, they would always announce it and publish it. Like, some other schools, they won't, they will only focus [on] football and stuff," Rodriguez said.

"But I think our athletic director, he did a really good job to, you know, bring out the accomplishments that the girls did. And I was really appreciative of that. They didn't just belittle you and like, make you feel like you weren't good enough," she continued.

Donald Cayer, who has been the athletic director and football coach at Ganesha for nearly nine years, said he's never looked at following Title IX requirements - like ensuring girls and boys have equal opportunities and access to sports - as something he has to do.

"It's just something we should follow anyway. Why shouldn't the girls get to play?" Cayer said.

He said in the last few years they've had two to three female football players on every team, and they've had multiple girls go off to college because they played sports at Ganesha.

"And when they come back, that's what's nice," Cayer said, tearing up as he talked.

"They come back and tell you they're successful," he said.

According to Kathy Spillar from the Feminist Majority Foundation, participation in sports is important for both boys and girls.

"But for girls, especially, it's proven to be very critical in health over the long term, mental health, the ability to stay in school and to pursue college, as well as graduating high school, and just in general the kind of self-confidence that sports can give a person," Spillar said.

"And when girls were denied those opportunities, they were denied an essential part of education," she continued.

Gender gaps persist

In some schools across the country there is still a significant gender gap in sports participation, which the National Women's Law Center defines this as a difference of more than 10 percentage points between the share of female students and the share of female athletes.

Even 50 years after the implementation of Title IX, federal data show one in 10 Southern California high schools may still have that significant gap. Nationally, the number is as high as one in five.

This doesn't necessarily mean that these schools are violating any Title IX requirements, but it's a sign of potential inequality.

Spillar said the Department of Education takes a variety of factors into account when looking at sports Title IX cases.

"They look at, is the school trying to meet those obligations or those interests, or are they continuing to expand the opportunities that they provide for girls sports opportunities at their schools?" she said.

So, how can schools expand opportunities and encourage participation?


At Murrieta Valley High School, another school with above-average female sports participation, athletic director Darin Mott said recognition is essential.

"Sometimes the attendance at some of those games between a boys and girls event is not comparable. So you want to try and promote a little bit harder," Mott said.

Mott said it's also important for administrators to be visible at as many games as possible.

But sometimes all the promotion you need is a win.

At Ganesha, Rodriguez said her soccer team had more supporters for some of the girls' soccer games than the boys.

"This is the first year we won league champs by ourselves without having to share with Garey High School. And I think that's why we had more fans because they saw that we were doing really well," Rodriguez said.

Facilities and equipment

Cayer, the athletic director at Ganesha, said he makes sure girls and boys teams get the same equipment and play in equal facilities.

"If we the boys play in the stadium, the girls play in the stadium. If the girls have the gym for basketball, the boys have gym for basketball," he said.

Even jerseys are important, Cayer said. If the boys team gets new uniforms, so do the girls.

Over at Murrieta Valley, officials say they have also purchased cameras to live stream as many events as possible and are working to improve facilities like their softball field, baseball field and gym to keep increasing participation and recognition.

Relationships, funding and access

Not every school has the budget to improve facilities or buy cameras. Murrieta Valley, for example, has less than 30% of its students on free/reduced lunch. At Ganesha, it's more than 90%.

As Ganesha's athletic director, Cayer stressed that one of keys to the success of his school is the connection he's built with students.

"You've got to walk around the campus, have them know who you are, talk with them, build relationships, even before they walk on the field," he said. "It doesn't cost anything to build a relationship."

Rodriguez credits her community and her family for her success in soccer.

"I always had that support from my parents and from the coaches," she said.

But Rodriguez also pointed to the importance of funding. She said access to club sports in lower income communities is critical to increase college opportunities and skills development.

"I think scholarships or stuff like that, for girls to be able to go into clubs, even if they don't have the money for it. Because not everybody has the money to be joining clubs," she said.

"Money shouldn't have to stop them from you know, being out there and showing their skills," she continued.