A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Female athletes look to break gender barriers

Pads cracking together, helmets smacking the floor, weights clashing the racks. Sophomore Kamara Clark steps onto the field ready to break the gender barrier as Spring Valley’s first female football player to officially be on the roster. Clark has been working out as a safety in practices and is determined to get on the field and play with the boys.

“I’m excited to play this season that’s the plan,” said Clark. “The boys are happy a girl is trying and they’ve been positive, and helping me learn things I don’t know.”

Title 9, which guarantees equality between men and women in high schools, celebrated its 45th anniversary last month. And while Spring Valley students use the rights guaranteed by this law, many have had mixed experiences with equality in sports.
Junior Kaitlyn Duffy, who went out for football in the summer of 2016, had the opposite experience of Clark.

“When I started football I noticed that it was like a big family but I felt different and left out because the players were sexist and didn’t agree with me playing,” said Duffy.

Duffy was planning on playing for the football team in the 2016 season, but said she didn’t feel welcome on the team from some of the other players.

Clark and Duffy have both been to practices and both hoped to break the gender barrier associated with girls and football. Although both agreed that coaching supported them to continue their aspirations, some players did not.

“All the coaches were very welcoming and treated me like anyone else,” said Duffy of the coaching staff.

According to Varsity football coach Marcus Teal they are the first two females who have attempted to play football at Spring Valley. While some think coaching girls would be different than coaching boys, Teal said it comes down to the character of the individual athlete.

“As a coach I don’t think [a girl playing football] is a big deal,” said Teal. “I coach flag football and some girls learn things faster than boys do on the football team. It depends on their skill set and then I’ll coach them depending on it, I might have to change my coaching style – male or female.”

Many players agreed that it’s cool to have a girl on the team.

“I think it’s actually amazing that a girl is trying to play,” said Varsity football player Junior Scotty McBride. “I try to help loosen the environment by just doing me no matter what.”

While Duffy and Clark are the first to try out for football, they are not the first females to tryout for a male dominated sport. The wrestling team has had multiple girls attempt to compete on the mat. for a male dominated sport. The wrestling team has had multiple girls attempt to compete on the mat.

“We’ve had a couple express interest in the sport,” said Principal Tam Larnerd. “The sport can become too rigorous on the athlete and no female has yet at Spring Valley shown the perseverance to stay, but I hope their will be soon.”

Although Title IX allows students equal opportunity in sports, regardless of gender, many female students said they feel limited by society’s expectations of women vs. male sports.

“I just wanted to learn about the basics of wrestling to help defend myself, but all the boys said don’t – it’s a male sport,” said Sophomore Michelle Silva.

At the professional level, it is uncommon to watch women and men compete against each other. In professional sports there has never a female in the MLB, NFL, or the NBA.

“I’ve wanted to play tackle football because of the roughness you don’t get from flag football,” said junior Vanessa Aston. “I know if I did play football they would try their best to get me off the team.”

Of the seven girl’s only sports, and 16 coaches for all levels, 10 are male coaches. Of them, many have seen success, proving that gender is irrelevant in coaching and sports.

“Mr. Larnerd wants to win more than anyone on campus,” said Athletic Administrator Gregory Stack. “Gender does not matter, it’s the dedication given to the sport that we look at.”

Sports administrators are pointing towards a balanced diversity, between males and females.

“I like coaching a team with both genders, it really makes the team diverse,” said head swimming coach Jean Rees. “Have boys and girls really makes it balanced, and then boys bring the make-up.”

Swimming, cross country, track and field, coed cheer, bowling, golf, and wrestling are all sports that include both genders, though they still do not compete against each other. Women’s varsity basketball and JV softball Coach William Hemberger has had success coaching females winning a state title in 2014-2015 for the school’s women’s basketball team –defeating some of the top schools in the valley.

“He used to coach boys too and I think he holds us to the same standard,” said Senior Varsity Basketball player Kayla Harris. “Him being a male is better cause he’s not as soft, and I think he knows more about the game than anyone and I know he won’t be light with us because we’re girls.”