Chico Branch Stands Up for Girls’ Sports

July 10, 2012

Carol Holzgrafe, past president of the AAUW Chico (CA) Branch, gives Cindy Wolff a certificate of appreciation for her work to improve equity in Chico schools.

“Why are there more opportunities for boys to play sports at this school than for girls?”

AAUW member Cindy Wolff asked this question in 2008 when her daughter was cut from the girls’ volleyball team at Chico High School in Chico, California. The school had recently reduced the girls’ volleyball team from 15 to 12 players, and Wolff noticed that several girls’ sports teams were smaller than the equivalent boys’ sports teams.

Wolff, a California State University, Chico, professor and director of the university’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion, quickly realized what her innocent question meant — the school was likely noncompliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which guarantees gender equality in educational opportunities.

This disturbed her. She didn’t want her tax money to go to “support the biases of others.” Sports equity is important to her because “sports participation of girls benefits the entire society,” she said. “It’s good for everyone.”

As a concerned parent and an advocate for equality, she met with the volleyball coach, the principal, and the athletic director about her concerns. None of the conversations led anywhere, so she compiled documentation about the school’s athletics program and filed a complaint with the district. Because her daughter said she faced retaliation at school, Wolff felt she had no other choice but to retract the complaint and file again later.

In fall 2009, Wolff filed another formal complaint against the district, which claimed that the complaint was not supported. Wolff met with the president of the school board. She was the first person who seemed to care, but she didn’t feel that she would be able to do anything. At a school board meeting on the topic, approximately 50 parents voiced similar concerns, but nothing happened afterward.

Wolff used her skills as a social scientist to collect more data. In spring 2010, she presented the data to the local AAUW Chico (CA) Branch. Former athletes and a Title IX expert also spoke at the meeting. Branch President Carol Holzgrafe said that Wolff’s presentation “blew us out of the water. The facts were so appalling, and we couldn’t ignore it.”

The whole branch backed Wolff, and in September 2010, they joined her in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX compliance. Wolff said the filing process was easy, and it only took two days for the agency to respond to say they would investigate. The complaint covered many aspects of inequality beyond just participation numbers. For example, the boys’ teams always had prime-time slots for their games, and only boys’ games had cheerleaders and band performances. Studies show that more people attend games that feature these perks, so the boys’ teams enjoyed more revenue, visibility, and publicity.

In March 2011, four people from the Office for Civil Rights spent four days canvassing the community and interviewing coaches, students, and other school personnel. They interviewed Wolff for an hour. Around that time, a reporter called the agency, and while Wolff was supposed to have anonymity, her name was released inadvertently and included in an article about the investigation in a local Chico newspaper. Sadly, Wolff received hate mail and faced retaliation in the community.

OCR’s investigation found that the school district was not compliant with Title IX. Before the report’s release on June 22, the agency began working with the district to bring them into compliance. After being mentioned in the post-investigation media coverage, Wolff received no hate mail — only messages of support.

An unexpected outcome of the investigation and report is that nearby school districts are changing too. For example, because some of the compliance measures include dividing up the prime-time game slots and adding junior varsity girls’ soccer and tennis teams, schools that Chico competes against also must become more compliant. Wolff points out that “one OCR complaint can evoke change in an entire region.”

Both Wolff and the AAUW branch are very pleased with the outcome of the investigation. Holzgrafe said, “This is the reason I belong to AAUW. We’re such movers and shakers. It’s so nice to identify a wrong and do something about it and have the organization behind us to do it.”

If you want to investigate whether your local school is compliant with Title IX, download AAUW’s Title IX Compliance: Know the Score Program in a Box to help you get started.

Holly Kearl By:   |   July 10, 2012

1 Comment

  1. Marygrace Colby says:

    Great work by Chico AAUW. Having been involved in numerous
    Title IX complaints on the college level for many years, high schools are finally getting looked at. The Chico results have made Paradise High School (20 miles
    from Chico) to make changes in its program for the coming school
    year: example…Changed nights of varsity Basketball for girls to
    same night as boys, providing chance to play before crowds and
    have band and cheerleaders. Will be following them this year.

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