Balancing the Booster Clubs

By Lawrence Hardy

A parent group wants your school district to elevate a boys’ high school baseball club they’ve funded for two years to the status of a state-sanctioned, varsity sport. Noting that other district high schools have baseball teams, they’re offering to pay $7,000 of the coach’s salary with money they’ve raised through concession sales, car washes, and other activities.

You’re on the school board. What do you do?

This was no hypothetical situation for the board of the 73,000-student Brevard Public Schools, Florida’s 10th largest district. Last September, after much deliberation and a fair amount of anguish, board members unanimously turned down the parents’ request. In doing so, the board did not endear itself to the 50 or so loyal baseball supporters in the audience -- the kind of people districts count on for support during these tough economic times.

“They don’t understand it,” says Vice Chairwoman Amy Kneessy, referring to some of the more passionate parent boosters. “They feel, in their minds, that they’re doing the work -- why are we putting up blocks?”

Brevard’s story is more complicated than it first appears. For one thing, Edgewood Junior Senior High on Merritt Island is a school of choice and was not designed to have a full range of varsity sports. Second, the district has been sued over Title IX, the federal law that requires comparable support for boys and girls activities.

Its case involved girls’ softball and, incidentally, boys’ baseball. And Brevard lost in district court, so board members were sensitive to maintaining gender balance in sports as well as to a sense of equity in a county whose students range from the extremely rich to the very poor.

“The equality of opportunity should not be determined by your zip code,” Kneessy says.

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