Empty Bleachers: BC Sports and Gender Equality


On Berkeley Carroll’s  2012 winter spirit day, three games were scheduled for the afternoon: first, JV boys’ basketball, then varsity girls’ basketball, and finally, varsity boys’ basketball.  After the entire upper school had packed into the Athletic Center for a pep rally to start the festivities, students stayed to watch the JV boys’ game.  However, once the varsity girls stepped onto the court, many of the spectators trickled out of the Athletic Center, until the varsity boys’ game, when they reentered to watch.  This instance was troubling to a lot of students, especially female athletes, and left them wondering why people would leave for the girls’ game only to come back for the boys’ game.  This raised the question: does Berkeley Carroll have an issue with gender inequity in its sports?

In recent years especially, Berkeley Carroll has taken steps to ensure that the upper school student body is aware of issues surrounding diversity and equality for all.  With the founding of clubs such as JADA (Joint Alliance for Diversity Awareness), and Girls to Women, it is no surprise that questions about gender equality in our sports have been surfacing.  Although it is admirable that we, as a community, are so interested in constantly discussing and improving our gender awareness here at BC, the discussion often comes in the form of complaints from students.

Most complaints attack the administration, blaming them for issues that the community may have with gender inequity.  The following claims have been raised by the student body on numerous occasions: the baseball teams get to go on a preseason trip and the softball team does not, boys’ teams get more “stuff” (mainly apparel), boys’ teams have more coaches, boys’ basketball and baseball are the only sports that recruit, and finally, boys’ games are advertised more, which is why they have increased viewership.  “I think that boys’ sports have always been given more opportunities and even more funds,” Lucy Cappello, a senior and co-president of Girls to Women, added.

In reality, almost none of these accusations holds any water.  The athletic director, Mr. McGrath, explained in an interview that there is no individual team budget.  Instead there is an athletics department budget that is broken down by type of expense.  For example, he said, “there’d be a line item for officials, for uniforms, for coaches, for materials, for transportation, etc.”  Then, the budget within each of these line items is broken down and allocated to each sport based on need.  Mr. Smith, who coaches both girls’ and boys’ volleyball, explained, “anything that I’ve ever asked for or requested through the athletic department has been pretty well received, equally.”

One of the most obvious differences that students usually pick up on is the fact that baseball goes to Florida over spring break for preseason training, but softball does not.  What most students do not know is that a preseason trip has been offered every year to the softball team, but there has not been enough interest to send them since 2011.  On the other hand, the girls’ soccer team has been going to a preseason camp for three years now, but the boys have not for similar reasons.  As for the coaching situation, some soccer players were upset by the fact that the boys had three coaches and the girls only had two.  However, Sabrina Quintanilla, a senior and captain of the soccer team, said, “I went to a [JADA] meeting and Mr. Giovino explained how hard he was working for all the teams and how much he really did try to get coaches for our team.”

One of the most frequent complaints claims that only the two boys’ teams, baseball and basketball, recruit, but no girls’ sports recruit.  Mr. Giovino, who coaches varsity boys’ basketball and works in admissions, explained, “we follow the NYSAIS rules, [which] say that any recruitment that occurs has to be within the fit of the school.”  In essence, any athlete who applies has to “get in” first.  Mr. Giovino was not surprised, though, that many students believe that certain sports do recruit.  “As [the basketball team] got better, some of the kids who would normally go to schools that have always had good basketball teams would come to us,” Mr. Giovino said.  It appears that Berkeley Carroll recruits because our most successful teams attract talented athletes.  Because of the noteworthy success of the boys’ basketball and baseball teams, students who excel in those sports want to come to BC.  However, those athletes are not offered a place of admission unless Berkeley Carroll is a good fit for them all around.

None of this, however, explains why the girls’ basketball team had to play in a mostly empty gym on Spirit Day back in 2012.  Unfortunately, even considering all of the above, there is still a discrepancy in viewership at games.  Simone Silvan, a sophomore and member of the volleyball team, said, “I do see a difference in turnout between boys and girls. Even I go to more boys’ basketball games than girls’ [games].”  Although it may seem on the surface that this is purely a gender issue, is that the whole reason why boys’ sports at BC attract the most spectators?

The amount of viewers that any team attracts is somewhat determined by the success of the team, regardless of gender.  Mr. Giovino pointed out, “different programs can be at different levels, and that adds to the perception” that viewership is a gender issue.  This works both ways.  For example, Mr. Smith claims that the girls’ volleyball team has a much larger following and is taken much more seriously than the boys’ volleyball team.  But this is only because last year was the first season that the boys were actually in a division; before, they had been playing exhibition games to demonstrate that they had a sustainable program, whereas the girls have had an established program for years.  In addition, in the 2013 season, the girls’ volleyball team was the undefeated league champion in the ACIS and went on to compete in the NYSAIS state tournament.

John Allman, who will be a senior on the varsity boys’ baseball team this spring, spoke to the fact that some teams receive more recognition than others.  He explained that although he is “yet to receive all of this preferential treatment that [he] was ‘supposed to get,’” he believes that “any team who accomplishes as much as the baseball team has would receive congratulations from the faculty and students regardless of gender or sport.”  In truth, at least in Berkeley Carroll’s recent history, the boys’ baseball team has easily been our most successful team, with a state championship and numerous league championships, and deserves the recognition that it receives.

Success cannot be the only determinant of spectator turnout, though, because, where basketball is concerned, the girls’ team and the boys’ team have both been very successful in the past few seasons.  Last season, the girls had ten wins and six losses.  The boys had twenty wins and six losses.  Both teams made it to the ACIS league playoffs; the boys played in the NYSAIS state tournament and the girls were the league champions of the PSAA.  Yet, “unless varsity [boys] are playing after us, our attendance is pretty poor,” Leah Ross, a sophomore and co-captain of the varsity basketball team, described.

“It doesn’t feel good if you’re a female athlete [and] no one comes to your games.  There’s not a huge amount that a school administration can do about that, though,” Ms. Moore, director of the Upper School, explained.  “I think it’s [that], despite how far we’ve come in terms of gender equity in sports, there’s still, unfortunately, a dominant culture that views the male version of sports as more serious than the female version.”  In 2013, the NBA finals were viewed by 17.7 million people.  In the same year, the WNBA finals were viewed by only 344 thousand people.  To a certain extent, viewership at Berkeley Carroll reflects this reality.  Simone spoke about her experiences, saying, “Something my coach taught me was that wherever I go in life, being a female athlete will always make it harder to prove myself.”

Unfortunately, the misconceptions that the student body has about the administration supporting some teams more than others reinforce the stereotyping of athletes at BC based on their gender.  “People see a perception and it angers them […but they] never really get to the reality or the facts.  And that can be frustrating,” Mr. Giovino described.

In order to move beyond this, it is imperative for students and faculty to take it upon themselves to make changes in our community.  “Once a perception has become ingrained, you need to actively do things to change the perception.  So I think it is incumbent upon us to really make sure that everything we do indicates and reflects our belief in the equality between our male and female teams,” Ms. Moore explained.  So what can we do?  Firstly, we can try not to jump to conclusions, and ask questions rather than make claims and complaints.  Secondly, we can make an effort to support teams equally: if you go to a boys’ basketball game, go to a girls’ game; if you go to a girls’ volleyball game, go to a boys’ game.  “There has to be more of an effort from the students to show that we see the teams as equal rather than just blaming it all on the administration,” Lucy Cappello, a senior, added.

We all want to believe that we can change the world, but that is a task much more easily said than done.  What we can do, though, is work to make Berkeley Carroll the best and most equal place possible.  Sarah Bender, a sophomore and three-season athlete, believes, “both girls and boys work as hard as each other and should all be proud for what they accomplish.”  Making the athletic experience at BC great for everyone starts with equal respect for all athletes, from every level.