When the Ottawa Hills girls high school soccer team steps onto the field today, they'll do so for the first time as a varsity team, if the Board of Education votes this afternoon as expected.
Ottawa Hills Superintendent Kevin Miller will recommend the board give varsity status to both girls soccer and lacrosse teams, and board members are expected to approve his recommendation. The vote will end a long campaign by players, parents, and coaches from both teams to be recognized by the district, and would bring the district into compliance with Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 prohibiting gender discrimination in any school program, including team athletics, that receives federal financial assistance.
The school district currently offers 16 sports — 9 for boys, 7 for girls, under its varsity athletic program.
District officials contemplated for a time granting varsity status to just one team, but Mr. Miller said the consensus of experts was that Ottawa Hills needed to give varsity status to both to be in Title IX compliance, and said that pitting one team against the other wouldn't have resolved the dispute.
"We wanted to do the right thing for Title IX, and the right thing (for the students)," Mr. Miller said.
Paul Lyon, president of Ottawa Hills Girls Club Soccer, said he was thankful the district appears set to approve varsity status for both teams, just in time for the soccer team's first state Division III tournament game against Northwood High School. The team was able to play in the state tournament this year after the school board voted last month to designate the lacrosse and soccer squads as sponsored club teams, a stopgap that qualified the soccer team for postseason play.
"All the parents are very excited," Mr. Lyon said. "They all support the schools 100 percent, and will do whatever is necessary to make the transition smooth."
Attempts to reach girls lacrosse coach Jim Petas were unsuccessful.
Though the varsity designation will be effective immediately, much work remains on turning the teams into official varsity squads. The district must hire coaches, provide transportation, buy equipment, and more. Mr. Miller estimated the cost to the district would be about $34,000 to turn both teams into varsity squads, though some of that would be countered by revenues generated by the teams.
The district would work to keep the costs as minimal as possible for taxpayers, he said, since the school system has been in a period of budget cuts in recent years. Mr. Miller said that fees charged to student athletes would likely increase across the board to help fund the sports programs.
The district never considered eliminating boys teams as a way to equalize athletic opportunities, Mr. Miller said.
The board of education meets today at 4:30 p.m. at the Ottawa Hills Elementary School.