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Hernando now has more girls in sports than boys

The school's efforts to involve more females follows a citation from the state for failure to comply with gender equity requirements.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


One year after it was cited for failure to comply with state requirements for gender equity, Hernando High has shown progress in encouraging more girls to participate in high school sports.

Female athletes represented 51.8 percent of the Leopards' varsity teams this school year, up more than 6 percent from 1998-99.

Hernando athletic director Rodney Byrd said the school made an effort to keep as many girls on teams as possible while imposing slightly harsher cuts on boys rosters. In six of the eight sports in which both genders compete, Hernando had a higher participation level from its girls.

"We asked the girls coaches to keep more if they could and we tried to reduce some of the boys sports," Byrd said. "The numbers were way up in some sports -- we had so many girls in swimming -- so we just tried to keep everyone that we could."

The largest turnout came in girls track and field, which had 43 athletes competing -- 16 more than the boys team and six more than Hernando's varsity football team. The girls weightlifting team had more than twice as many participants as the boys team.

But the best example of the growth in participation probably is swimming, where coach Debi Raab had 19 boys and 30 girls competing last season and expects an even greater disparity next season. If there's a problem with participation here, it's simply in finding a pool big enough for all of the girls.

"I have 24 coming back from last year and another 20 signed up, and there's always a few freshmen, so all of a sudden I'm at 50 girls, and I have only eight boys coming back," said Raab, entering her seventh season coaching at Hernando. "I'm not sure how I'll divide them up right now because they won't all fit in one pool."

Raab -- and Hernando -- aren't alone in that regard. Gender equity compliance is handled by the state's Department of Education, and regulations ask that at any given public school, the percentage of athletes who are female must fall within 5 percent of the percentage of students who are female. While statewide numbers are not tallied, the trends are easy to notice.

"There's been just a dramatic increase in the number of females playing sports," said Nancy Benda, director of the department's Equal Educational Opportunities Program. "Where we might have once heard that girls just don't want to come out for sports, we now have athletic directors telling us they have more girls coming out than they can possibly give positions to."

The numbers used to show participation can be misleading, however. The submitted forms define a participant as anyone who "participated in competition (or) participated with the team and was eligible for competition but did not play," as determined on the first date of the first competitive event for the sport.

So while Hernando's girls weightlifting team is listed as having an impressive 33 participants, when the Leopards traveled to Bushnell for the season-ending conference meet, only six lifters competed for Hernando, which tied for last place in the meet.

The county's other two high schools, Central and Springstead, also are in compliance, though Central was cited as recently as 1996. One of Hernando's problems last year was an unusually high percentage of female students -- 57.5 percent in 1998-99, according to Byrd, who said that number was slightly down this season.

Compared to the varsity, Hernando's junior varsity participation is decidedly more male, with boys representing 60 percent of the 148 JV athletes. But in the two sports where both genders field JV teams -- basketball and soccer -- girls outnumber the boys 31-29.

Oddly enough, the change in quantity has coincided with a dropoff in success for the Leopards girls. Hernando's 10 girls teams combined to win the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference's All-Sports Trophy last season, but the Leopards fell to fourth place out of seven schools this year, with only the softball team winning a conference crown.

More athletes did not necessarily point to more success, as Hernando's girls track team, with a school-high 43 members, finished last in the conference.

Gender comparison

Girls participated more than boys in six of the eight sports in which both genders fielded varsity teams at Hernando last year. In those eight sports, girls outnumbered boys 173-120, which amounts to 44 percent higher participation.

In the five varsity sports at Hernando offered to just one sex, boys baseball (14) and wrestling (14) offset girls softball (14) and volleyball (12). So despite 37 boys participating in football, Hernando was able to have girls represent more than half of its varsity athletes.

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