Athletic opportunity: Girls flag football goes varsity in county

How appropriate that amid a landmark Olympic Games for American women, the Clark County School District took a big step last week toward creating a level playing field for local female student-athletes.

The district is poised to offer flag football as a girls varsity sport at public high schools this winter, Superintendent Dwight Jones announced Thursday. The creation of the teams would move the district closer to compliance with federal Title IX standards, which mandate equal opportunities for young men and women in education and interscholastic athletics.

A 2010 civil rights complaint alleged the district was well short of those requirements. Ray Mathis, the school district's executive athletic director, points out that the number of male athletes in the system outnumber female athletes by between 10 and 12 percent, when the gap should be no more than 5 percent. If cheerleading were considered a girls sport, that gap would be considerably smaller, but a federal appeals court ruled last week that competitive cheerleading cannot be counted toward Title IX compliance by colleges. Anyone who's watched the athletic rigors of cheerleading routines evolve over the years might disagree, but school district administrators clearly know a losing battle when they see it.

Too often at the college level, schools have decided the best way to comply with Title IX requirements is to subtract men's sports instead of add women's teams. The result is an overall reduction of athletic opportunity.

Last year, the Clark County School District added freshmen soccer for girls - a level unavailable to boys - and girls lacrosse will be considered for varsity status for the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Mathis told the Review-Journal. Lacrosse finished third in polling of female students in 2010 and 2011, when the district was studying which girls sports to add. Flag football was second - behind cheerleading, of course.

The just-concluded Summer Games in London saw American women outnumber male U.S. competitors for the first time. U.S. women also won a majority of America's world-leading 46 gold medals. Moreover, women's sports pulled big numbers in TV ratings and were huge draws for fans. More than 80,000 people bought tickets for the gold medal women's soccer match - won by the United States - and women's beach volleyball was among the toughest tickets to get at the games. As interest in girls sports continues to grow, it's imperative that schools and communities meet the demand for teams.

Under the best coaches, sports teach our children about the value of hard work and preparation and how to succeed and fail with grace. They instill resiliency and self-confidence and provide lessons in performing under pressure.

It's estimated girls flag football will cost the district $225,000 this year. The Clark County School Board should approve the expenditure. The system's budget challenges notwithstanding, it's small change for potentially big returns.