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Coaches mobilize against girls’ soccer season change

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An agreement has been reached between the Department of Education and New York Civil Liberties Union to move the PSAL girls’ soccer season to the fall starting in 2009-10.

The families of three girls’ soccer players, from Bronx Science, Beacon and School of the Future, threatened a class-action, Title IX lawsuit against the DOE had the season not been moved, citing an unequal playing field for girls as well as discrimination. The NYCLU got involved and the DOE, wishing to avoid “complex litigation,” signed a deal agreeing to the switch last week.

But this is hardly a dead issue, a few boys’ and girls’ soccer coaches across the city say. A handful of coaches, including Bob Sprance, who coaches the boys and girls at Forest Hills HS, and Bill Sioukas, the girls’ soccer coach at Townsend Harris, have adamantly led the charge against the change.

“This is a disgrace,” Sprance said.

An e-mail has been sent out to every soccer coach in the city asking for assistance and legal counsel is being sought. Sprance says they are seeking an injunction to get the switch overturned – or at least sent to a hearing. Lack of field space and referees are the primary issues. The DOE said in a statement that league games might have to played on weekends, when many players have jobs or religious obligations.

“The thing that shocks me the most is how fast this thing has taken off with no regard for the coaches and athletes,” Sioukas said.

The argument for litigation was that there was an uneven playing field for boys and girls, because club season, where players compete on non-school, travel teams, runs in the spring. The NYCLU argued that by scheduling girls’ soccer in the spring, the PSAL violated Title IX of the federal Educational Amendments Acts of 1972, which prohibits discrimination against women and girls in education, including high-school athletics.

Playing in the spring deprived them of opportunities for college recruitment, scholarships and the chance to compete with teams outside of New York City, according to the NYCLU. The PSAL was the only association in New York State to hold its girls’ soccer season in the spring.

“Forcing girls to play soccer out of season relegated them to second-class status, and told them that they were not entitled to the same advantages as the boys,” NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “The DOE is right to end this discriminatory practice and ensure that all its soccer athletes have equal opportunities to develop their talents and enjoy the game.”

Sprance doesn’t understand where the discrimination lies. After all, participation in girls’ soccer in the PSAL grew 51 percent between 2002 and 2008, from 1,163 students to 1,756, according to the DOE. That will most likely plummet this August, some coaches are saying. Approximately 33 percent of girls’ soccer players also compete in volleyball, a fall sport. That’s a much greater percentage than girls’ soccer players in the PSAL who play club. Also, 39 coaches in the city coach both teams, so those positions must be filled in only a few months notice.

“Where are they going to get 39 qualified coaches?” Sprance said.

Then there’s the issue of field space. Many schools have boys’ soccer programs and varsity and junior varsity football programs running in the fall. There’s also CHSAA boys’ and girls’ soccer to compete with for fields – and referees. The NYCLU-DOE agreement stated that the amount of games must be similar to previous seasons.

“A lot of the schools depend on Parks (Department) facilities,” PSAL assignor Allan Wharton said in an interview last spring. “This is not like Long Island where you walk outside and there are two soccer fields, a baseball field and a softball field. ... Where are we going to go with this? Logistically, it cannot be done.”

One Brooklyn coach, who coaches both the boys’ and girls’ programs at his school, takes issue with three families disregarding the needs of the rest of the city.

“Nobody was asked,” the Brooklyn coach said, under condition of anonymity. “The 1,700 girls in the PSAL were not given an opportunity to speak their piece.”

At least one doesn’t want the change. Bayside senior goalkeeper Nicole Carroll says her club season, like many, runs in the fall and spring. Holding league games on weekends in the fall would interfere just as much as weekday games in the spring.

“It was fine as it was,” Carroll said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t leave it the way it was.”

It’s unclear how the boys’ soccer program and football will be affected by this change, but city football coaches are meeting Tuesday night to discuss it. Playing JV-varsity doubleheaders on weekends has been proposed, but that doesn’t solve the problem of practice space.

“It’s definitely going to effect football,” Bayside coach Jason Levitt said. “We're going to have to alter our plans. … We’ll be able to weather the storm, but other schools will have problems.”

Sprance and Sioukas foresee all kinds of issues with the change, like teams dissolving and more girls being hurt than helped. Sprance calls the three families who initially threatened legal action “selfish.”

“Everybody’s affected – 7,000 people, because of three girls,” he said. “Who are these people that are suffering?”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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