Monday, June 22, 2009

Playing Against the Odds


Talent and dedication may not be enough to keep the girls of Middle School 61 in Brooklyn on the basketball court. Above, a textbook example of the structural and cultural barriers that prevent so many inner-city girls from participating in team sports.

In the suburbs, girls’ participation in sports is so commonplace that in many communities, the conversation has shifted from concerns over equal access to worries that some girls are playing too much. But the revolution in girls’ sports has largely bypassed the nation’s cities, where public school districts short on money often view sports as a luxury rather than an entitlement.

Coaches and organizers of youth sports in cities say that while many immigrant and lower-income parents see the benefit of sports for sons, they often lean on daughters to fill needs in their own hectic lives, like tending to siblings or cleaning the house. …

In the suburbs, girls play sports at rates roughly equal to boys. A 2007 survey by Harris Interactive of more than 2,000 schoolchildren nationwide showed that 54 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls in the suburbs described themselves as “moderately involved” athletes.

Urban areas revealed a much greater discrepancy. Only 36 percent of city girls in the survey described themselves as moderately involved athletes, compared with 56 percent of city boys.

Girls in cities from Los Angeles to New York “are the left-behinds of the youth sport movement in the United States,” said Don Sabo, a professor of health policy at D’Youville College in Buffalo, who conducted the study, which was commissioned by the Women’s Sports Foundation, a private advocacy group.

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