The Ottawa Hills Board of Education voted Tuesday to make girls lacrosse and girls soccer varsity sports.
The vote ended a long campaign by players, parents, and coaches from both teams to be recognized by the district. It also brings 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 now offers 18 sports, nine each for boys and girls, under its varsity programs. The girls soccer team played its first state Division III tournament game Tuesday against Northwood High School.
Parents and supporters of the teams called the move great news. Kym Lemieux, parent coordinator for the lacrosse team, called the decision “a long time coming.”
“I think this is just a great vote of confidence, and I think the girls and the school will benefit,” girls lacrosse coach Jim Petas said.
The board’s vote came after a recommendation by Ottawa Hills Superintendent Kevin Miller to grant both teams varsity status. He credited a citizen committee that has investigated for months how best to comply with Title IX.
The process grew at times contentious, especially in recent weeks, with some parents considering legal action over what they said were Title IX violations.
Board President Gary Wilson said after Tuesday’s meeting that the district always wanted to be in compliance with the law and ultimately decided adding both teams was the best solution. Mr. Wilson said participating in varsity sports can provide college scholarship opportunities for students and also can prove beneficial on college applications. He noted that Ottawa Hills has a large number of varsity teams for its size.
“We want to provide these opportunities,” he said.
Although some parents had focused on Title IX compliance, Ms. Lemieux said she never felt the district was discriminating against girls sports.
The varsity designation doesn’t come without a cost. 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 revenue generated by the teams. Those costs come at a time when the district has been cutting academic programs.
The victory might end up being a bittersweet one for Mr. Petas. Because the teams have varsity designation, they will be run by the district, meaning Mr. Petas might lose his coaching position for the team he helped build. He said whatever the district decides, he’s happy the board decided to support the program.
Representatives from the girls soccer team were not at the meeting because of their state tournament game, which they lost to Northwood, 3-0.
“The Cinderella story comes to an end,” said Paul Lyon, president of Ottawa Hills Girls Club Soccer, after the game. “But there is now a ‘next year.’ ”
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6086.