Paint Branch High School Athletic Director Heather Podosek has experienced the world of high school athletics from all different angles.
In the 1970s she was a player in the scholastic ranks before becoming a college coach. In the late 1990s, she became the Burtonsville school’s girls basketball coach and experienced success. Two years ago, she moved into her current administrative role.
Through all her experiences of nearly 40 years, she has directly benefited from Title IX and has been a part of the growth of female athletics.
“Obviously there is a financial component and it evened the playing field in terms of facilities,” said Podosek, who is one of six female athletic directors among the 25 public high schools in Montgomery County. “But more importantly, it has given females a great opportunity.
“I was reading [former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach] Pat Summitt’s book and she was talking about how at age 29 she had to travel in a station wagon, sleep on the gym floor and play in front of small crowds. Now, I’ve watched [Paint Branch graduates and NCAA Division I women’s basketball players] Brene [Moseley], Tarik [Hislop], Kenia [Cole] have a tremendous opportunity to get an education and play in front of thousands. That was not possible back in the 1960s.”
As female participation in athletics has increased, the number of spectators also has risen.“I think we take so much of it for granted in this day,” said Jenna Ries, the athletic director and field hockey and girls lacrosse coach at the all-girls Academy of the Holy Cross. “But what is so impressive is the unbelievable amount of media coverage female sports gets now. You see all the college championships on ESPN and ESPNU now. That was unheard of back in the day.
“Attendance at events has also improved tremendously even from when I played. For us, you look at when we play Good Counsel in volleyball or lacrosse, those rivalry games are packed.”
During the 1971-72 academic calendar, the year before Title IX was implemented, there were 3,960,932 high school student-athletes nationwide and just 7.42 percent were female, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
In 1972-73, significant growth occurred, as 17.81 percent of the nation’s 4,587,694 high school athletes were female. In 2010-11, the most recent year for which statistics are available, athletic participation is up across the board at 7,667,955, and 41.39 percent are female.
In Maryland last year, the percentages were virtually identical (58.1 male, 41.9 female), according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. If football, an almost exclusively male sport with no female equivalent, isn’t counted, the percentage of female participants increases to 48.6.
In spite of those gains, attendance at girls sports events often lags behind attendance at boys games. Neither the MPSSAA — the state’s governing body of public school sports — nor Montgomery County Public Schools had statistics comparing attendance for boys and girls sports events.
Many county athletic directors, coaches and administrators have observed differences in attendance between male and female teams, but said those differences have more to do with winning and losing than they do with gender.
“We’ve never really studied it but I’ve noticed over the years an increase of attendance across the board,” said Montgomery County Public Schools Director of System-Wide Athletics William “Duke” Beattie. “But most [female] sports attendance in general, taking away football and basketball, is just as great as boys sports.”
The MPSSAA said attendance has remained “steady” for both boys and girls state tournaments.
“Increases are truly a reflection of the schools that make the tournament, how often they make the tournament, and the interest of the school communities in supporting their teams,” the MPSSAA said in a statement emailed to The Gazette. “Since girls started with no one watching, let alone paying to watch them play, things have come a long way.”
“The student-athletes now know no difference since they’ve grown up with males and females interacting with each other,” said Ned Sparks, who has been the MPSSAA’s executive director for 30 years. “I don’t think gender plays much a role in regards to attendance now. The kids and their families just want to come support their friends.”