Gymnastics supporters point to gender balance in debate over funding in Sioux Falls schools
The Sioux Falls School Board will vote Monday to approve tentative budget, which currently does not fund the sport.
SIOUX FALLS — A group of parents trying to keep gymnastics alive in Sioux Falls high schools is raising concerns about gender equity if the sport is cut.
The Sioux Falls School Board is weighing the budget for the next year, which right now doesn’t include money for gymnastics.
Parents have been organizing and rallying support for the past several weeks and on Thursday, April 20, sent board members data they collected on the numbers of boys and girls participating in high school sports in the district.
“We’re not looking to tip the apple cart and make a stink about anything,” Angi Allen, one of the parents involved in the data collection, said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live. “We just really want to ensure before the board members make a decision that they have all the information.”
The issue of gender balance is noteworthy because it raises the potential for a discussion of Title IX, the landmark federal law that requires equal opportunity for women in high school and college sports.
The law is complex and uses a three-tiered structure to determine if schools are in compliance. The parents group believes the numbers suggest that eliminating gymnastics could cause an imbalance.
The district, however, says the evidence suggests otherwise.
Two girls sports — softball and wrestling — were added for the current school year, according to a statement to Sioux Falls Live from Tory Stolen, a district spokesperson.
“The Sioux Falls School District does not anticipate compliance issues with Title IX requirements as we continue to expand athletic programs for female student-athletes,” Stolen said in the statement.
The challenge for gymnastics has been a decreasing number of athletes participating. Supporters raised concerns when the Rapid City School District ended funding earlier this year. But it’s been an issue for the past couple years as Sioux Falls officials have watched participation decline.
That led to ending the middle school program, consolidating practice facilities and coaches at the high school level and ending busing to practices.
The parents group believes that the decrease is a result of those actions as much as a lack of interest. In fact, they say there is a new wave of interest building in the local clubs and a fresh commitment to cooperation.
They have committed to raising money and recruiting coaches to meet the needs.
That may not be enough to convince the school board, which will vote on tentative approval of the budget at the meeting on Monday, April 24. That budget currently does not include money for gymnastics, but that could change before final approval in July.
Numbers are a key element of any discussion of Title IX.
The parents data was developed using rosters from each sport for the four high schools, including middle school athletes participating in high school programs.
Their research indicated that 58% of the 1,920 athletes are male and 42% female, if gymnastics is included.
Removing gymnastics moves the split to 60% to 40%.
That doesn’t in itself indicate a problem under Title IX and Allen said the parents recognize that it’s a complicated formula to make that determination.
But it is an important point to consider before eliminating a girls sport, she said.
“We just want to know it’s fair,” she said. “It’s been frustrating with the opaqueness of the process. We feel like we were starting behind the 8-ball to begin with.”
Equal gender participation in sports is a difficult, and often unattainable, goal given the large numbers of boys that play football. And Title IX doesn’t require them to be equal numbers, just equal opportunity.
The district believes it meets that requirement and is actually increasing opportunity.
“This year, gymnastics included 34 high school students and ten middle school students, a decline of 13 students from the prior year or 23%,” Stolen said the district’s statement. “By contrast, as a new sport, girls wrestling included 39 middle school female wrestlers and 25 high school female wrestlers. This spring, girls' softball participation is at 97 athletes for high school alone, with a solid middle school club program. Female student-athletes in the Sioux Falls School District have a healthy menu of sports to choose from to ensure adequate and growing participation opportunities.”
Monday’s meeting will be heavily attended by gymnasts, parents and other supporters of the sport, said Allen.
“Right now we are asking for time before this decision is made,” she said. “The information we are presenting, we are saying we found this out and we want you to look at it and see before you make a decision and something irrevocable happens that we can’t come back from.”