Challenging issues bridging the gender gap between men’s, women’s sports

‘It really begs the question, should we have a standard for if we’re going to do this?’


Sabrina Agazzi, Acalanes High School

Acalanes students notice significant disparities between the attention showered on men’s and women’s sports.

Julia Poole and Natalie Hiatt, Acalanes High School

An Acalanes senior soccer player takes her team photos, eagerly anticipating the tradition she has waited so long to experience. When the women’s player finally hears her banner has been hung in front of the field, she races to the field. Her face falls, however, as she sees the stark contrast between the small women’s senior banners and the men’s large senior banners. 

   Throughout the winter and spring sports seasons, many Acalanes students witnessed a shift in recognition for women’s sports, prompting discussion within the student body and administrative circles.

   At the entrance to the Acalanes soccer field, the men’s and women’s soccer teams hang  annual banners to honor their senior athletes. Some Acalanes community members noticed a difference between the appearance of the men’s and women’s portraits.

   “If you just look at the fence, the senior banners, our body is literally one-fourth of their entire banner, and that just completely frustrated us because we are not only smaller, but we are below them, and it just looks completely different than theirs,” varsity women’s soccer player and Acalanes senior Lauren Yee said.

   Women’s soccer players brought the banner difference to the attention of Acalanes Athletic Director Randall Takahashi. After discussing the lower placement of the women’s banners, Takahashi moved the banners to a more noticeable position on the fence. The players’ concerns, however, raised questions about the standard for athletes’ senior banners.

   “It really begs the question, should we have a standard for if we’re going to do this? [Say] this is the size that they have to be so that everybody’s is the same and nobody can say ‘Why is the men’s different from the women’s?’ or ‘Why is tennis different from basketball?’ ” Takahashi said.

   Although some coordination between parents already occurs, there are no regulations on senior portrait size or which vendor to go through. The parent volunteers who organized the senior banners experienced difficulty in communication with vendors, prompting the difference in banner size.

   “I think it is important to celebrate both teams and both groups of students, so when I knew that we would be making the banners for the men’s soccer team, I called the parent who is in charge of the women’s program … and I asked if she wanted to do the same thing for the girls,” men’s soccer player parent and Acalanes Spanish teacher Heidi Skvarna said. “She chose to make a different size banner and I gave her our vendor information but she chose to use a different vendor.”

   Initially, however, many students believed that the difference in senior banner size reflected budget differences between women’s and men’s soccer. While the school maintains an equal budget for all sports, most athletics programs receive funds from the Acalanes community. 

   “From a school standpoint, we budget equally to sports, but we do not fund athletics through the District. Athletics are funded through participation fees and parent fundraising … Does that mean some sports get funded more than others based on the parent participation, the parent fundraising, and how those sports generate interest and the number of participants? Yeah,” Acalanes Principal Eric Shawn said.

   While the participation levels in men and women’s soccer are relatively equal, there is a stark contrast between their levels of fundraising. 

   “The main difference between the two of these budgets for sure is the fact that men’s soccer has had some significant fundraising that they have been doing. But if you look at the amount that Boosters gave them [men’s and women’s soccer], it is almost identical. At the end of the day, really all the money for all the Acalanes athletics comes from Acalanes families. It is not really supported by anything else,” Acalanes Booster Co-President Julia Bates said. 

   Because fundraising varies so widely in Acalanes sports, some Acalanes community members propose increased standardization of senior events and communication between parent volunteers.

   “Parent participation and student participation is so varied. [Acalanes] should have some coordination between sports. For example, between men’s soccer and women’s soccer, the parents that organize how they do the celebrations for their seniors should be talking,” Takahashi said. 

   In addition to the disparity between women’s and men’s senior banners, some Acalanes students noticed a contrast in publicizing. 

   In accordance with the Contra Costa County health guidelines earlier in the spring semester, winter sports prohibited all spectators at the beginning of the season. In early February, however, the health guidelines loosened and Acalanes began selling tickets through GoFan to restrict the number of spectators to 500. The Acalanes administration then publicized the selling of tickets via emails and loudspeaker announcements.

   “Many of the announcements that I have made in the winter have been around specific issues with ticketing … to explain how to buy tickets so that folks can get into those gyms,” Shawn said. “I do think that there has been more attention towards, as an example, the men’s games that were on Friday nights, because of the fact that we were moving to an online ticketing format, so we had to be clear on [how to buy tickets].” 

   Early in the winter season, some students observed that the Acalanes administration disproportionately publicized men’s sports in ticket sale announcements. 

   “I think [Acalanes] administration could do a better job [supporting women’s sports] because I know the men’s basketball got the advertisement over the loudspeaker when they played Campolindo, and in the Daily Don they had a part of it that they were playing Campolindo, and when [women’s basketball] played Campolindo at home, we didn’t get any of that from admin[istration],” varsity women’s basketball player and Acalanes sophomore Natalie Lyons said.

   Some women athletes saw that their sport received more publicity from the administration after their regular season, when the North Coast Section (NCS) began. On Feb. 25, the administration made a loudspeaker announcement raising awareness about the women’s basketball and women’s soccer NCS games that week. 

   “Admin[istration] promoted our NCS soccer games a good amount, but our normal games were not promoted as much, which kind of makes sense. I think it has changed recently and they promoted it more when we went farther in NCS,” women’s soccer player and Acalanes sophomore Ella Thomson said.

   Despite the appearance of increased publicity for women’s teams, the administration states that the publicity was consistent with their policy for important games.

   “We try to get on the loudspeaker to advertise for big games or playoff games. The fact that this announcement was for a girls’ game was great, but not necessarily by design,” Acalanes Associate Principal Mike Plant said.

   Many student-athletes also believe that Acalanes Leadership promotes women’s sports more now than in previous years.

   “This season, Leadership is focusing more on women’s sports, so [men’s soccer] did not get as much publicity this year. I have seen a lot more events focused around women’s sports, which is great, just because I feel like normally all of the men’s sports get the attention,” varsity men’s soccer and football player and Acalanes senior Rhett Skvarna said.

   Leadership also emphasizes the importance of athletes promoting their own sport to raise equal interest in sports programs. 

   “One of the things that [administration] and I have really been pushing is, how do teams self promote? Because I only have eight students who are part of the Spirit Squad who are in charge of promoting [clubs, performing arts, and athletics], which is impossible to do at a really high level,” Acalanes Leadership teacher Katherine Walton said.

   The Female Athlete Board also promotes more spectatorship and a sense of community in women’s sports. Takahashi established the FAB at the beginning of the school year to create a safe space for female athletes to discuss and address inequities. 

   “We have tried to get more crowds out at women’s games. Two games we had a pretty good crowd out because the FAB was there and we did a lot of publicizing for it. It is just a place where we can all share our opinions and feelings and not feel like we have to keep quiet because of the boys in the group,” varsity women’s soccer player, FAB member, and Acalanes junior Tatum Zuber said.

     Despite the increased promotion from Leadership and the FAB, the disparity between spectators of men’s and women’s sports remains.

   “I would say not many people other than family members [attend games]. Literally not that many people other than family members, probably 7-10 a game, 15 tops. Usually it is just a couple of people from Leadership,” Lyons said.

   For the same sport, however, the men’s teams play in front of a larger audience with more students.

   “Once the league [games] roll around, [the number of people is] usually somewhere in the hundreds. For important games, like Campolindo, [the tickets] sold out. I think it was like 500 tickets sold,” varsity men’s basketball player and Acalanes junior Theo Stoll said.

   This winter season, the women’s basketball team entered NCS as the first seed and the women’s soccer team entered as the second seed. Because of the women’s team’s rankings, many believe the skill level of women’s sports merits more spectatorship. 

   “It would be great to see more people go to the women’s basketball games in general, but especially now. They are the first seed in their NCS division and they are going to make a run. They won the league championships, so a team that good should be getting fans every game,” Stoll said.

  Athletes express the value of attending their games in spite of the stigma surrounding women’s sports.

   “The women’s basketball games I have been to this season are so fun to watch. They are winning games and they might be our best sport at Acalanes. Women’s soccer is really good, women’s basketball is really good, women’s water polo is good, so there might be some negative attitudes, but they are completely unjustified,” Stoll said. 

   To make significant progress toward disrupting the inequalities between men’s and women’s sports, coaches express how students must use their voices. 

   “I am not sure if they are publicizing like they did for the boys, but I told my girls they then need to speak up. If you do not feel like it is fair, that is where you as a leader, as a woman, need to speak up and say what you feel,” Acalanes women’s basketball coach Margaret Gartner said.

   Despite ongoing inequities in the recognition of women’s and men’s athletics, many Acalanes community members feel inspired to continue fighting for change.

   “We are fighting institutionalized patriarchy where we are working against deep-seated beliefs and behaviors around how we give attention to men versus women,” Shawn said. “As a leader of this school, I continue to endeavor to do better to communicate how we value our women athletes, their talent, and their success. And that should be known and celebrated by our community.”