VHSL Survey of Female Athletes

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -- Following a review of the results of a state-wide survey of female high school athletes, the Virginia High School League Executive Committee on Tuesday affirmed its commitment to the present seasonal alignment, which permits different enrollment groups (A, AA and AAA) to sponsor competition in the same sport in different seasons.

The survey and Executive Committee action are in response to a suit alleging that the present seasonal alignment in girls basketball, volleyball and tennis discriminates against female student athletes and arguing that girls’ sports seasons should be aligned across all three enrollment groups, as is true now for boys.

Currently, girls in Groups A and AA play basketball in the fall, volleyball in the winter and tennis in the spring. Those in Group AAA, the state’s largest schools, play basketball in the winter and volleyball and tennis in the fall.

With a 96.1 percent response rate, the survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia indicated that large majorities of the girls in all three VHSL groups prefer the present seasonal alignment in all three sports.

Ken Tilley, VHSL executive director, noted that the survey respondents were very interested in the issue and seemed appreciative of the League’s asking their views.

Girls were asked their seasonal preferences and then given three arguments for changing seasons as advanced by the lawsuit, and three against. Then they were re-asked their seasonal preferences. In all three sports and across all groups, the large majorities of girls favoring the current seasons increased after hearing the pro and con arguments for change.

Dr. Carolyn Callahan, from the university’s Curry School of Education, presented the results and called the rate of response “remarkable.” UVa’s representative to both the NCAA and ACC, Callahan said she was confident that the survey accurately shows that girls do not want to change seasons, and that they feel strongly on the issue.

Girls did indicate a preference for all girls playing the same season as sought in the lawsuit, but girls were unwilling to change their own school’s seasons in order to achieve the uniformity. The message from girls seems to be that the same season is a nice goal, but they overwhelmingly want the single season changed to their school’s season or not at all.

Girls did not agree with the assertion that the present system has an appearance of inferiority for girls or that it is unfair to girls. A majority of girls want the League to consider the impact of schools changing seasons when they change group because of changes in enrollment; but again this consideration is strongly outweighed by preference for current seasons.

Following the presentation of survey results, the Executive Committee voted unanimously to affirm the current seasonal alignment. During the discussion, League counsel in the lawsuit advised that members should base their decision on what seasonal alignment would maximize girls’ participation in sports by matching their interests.

The purpose of the survey was to find out the interests of girls in seasonal alignment so we could best hit the target in meeting their interests,” said Tilley. “The survey left no doubt as to what girls’ interests are in seasons for these sports. I think the committee responded to that in making its decision.”

After considering last fall alternative plans for aligning girls’ sports seasons, the Executive Committee authorized the survey in December. League counsel Jim Johnson said that the VHSL made clear to the center that it wanted objective findings, not slanted toward any result.

The center conducted the survey this winter and released a summary of the results at Tuesday’s meeting.

The League wanted an objective and accurate view of what girls want, and they got it, Johnson said. “If the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are really concerned about maximizing girls’ satisfaction and participation in sports, they should come to the same conclusion the League did after looking at the survey.”

The VHSL decided at its meeting to make the results public. Copies are available upon request.

Please visit the VHSL website.