By Adam Caplan
The day the Pope touched down in New York City, the Elisabeth Irwin High School boys and girls varsity soccer teams were both scheduled to play games on Randall’s Island. The day of the game, the girls received an email from their coach, Jeremiah, saying the game had been cancelled because it was “too difficult to get both teams there on time” due to traffic. While the girls game against Calhoun was cancelled, the boys still played their game against Birch Wathen Lenox. The athletic department’s decision to cancel the girls game over the boys inspired numerous rumors that the athletic department didn’t treat both genders equally.
But while many students in the LREI community believe that the athletic department favors one gender over another, the research suggests otherwise, and the misconception seems rooted in a lack of communication between the students, coaches, and athletic department.
Olivia Sharp, a senior on the girls soccer team, was upset that her game was cancelled and the boys game wasn’t. She believed that the girls game was cancelled because Peter Fisher, the school’s athletic director, gives preferential treatment to the boys soccer team. “I don’t know [why], but he clearly focuses much more on the boys soccer team than on the girls,” she said.
The truth, however, was less scandalous. Peter explained that the boys game wasn’t cancelled because “the boys were playing across the bridge, where they could walk to and didn’t need to take a bus,” while the girls game was cancelled because the team was scheduled to play on a field much further away that was more difficult to reach due to traffic. “It was the other school’s idea to cancel [the girls game],” he added. Peter had given this information to the Elisabeth Irwin coaches and wasn’t sure why they never passed it on to their players.
The question of disparities between the treatment of boys and girls in the school has also led to allegations from boys that girls teams have been treated more favorably. Senior point guard Malcolm Mckenzie believes that the girls varsity basketball team was treated better than the boys team. “The female teams get a lot more stuff,” Malcolm said. “I see many of the girls teams have hoodies with their names and numbers on the backs, and I have never received any personalized clothing.” While he was unable to cite any other time when the girls had received equipment that the boys had not, he recalled receiving zip ups, though they weren’t personalized.
Elisabeth Irwin athletic director Peter Fisher shed light on why the boys team didn’t have their names on their sweatshirts. “Everyone gets the same things,” he said. “Each basketball team gets jerseys and one warm up. Teams can get sweatshirts if they request them early enough.” The girls requested their names on the back, while the boys did not. Even if teams receive a different style of warm up or sweatshirt, Fisher said, they’re all around the same price range. According to him,“there’s no bias towards any team” when it comes to funding.
In fact, Elisabeth Irwin appears to treat the boys and girls teams fairly. The idea that the boys and girls teams are not treated equally seems to arise from miscommunication. While Peter had to cancel the girls game soccer game this fall, he was able to remedy a different and more legitimate inequality between girls and boys teams. Every year the boys varsity basketball team has played Elisabeth Irwin alums midway through their season. The girls have never participated in this event, but this year that will change. A few girls emailed and spoke to Peter Fisher about how unfair it was to only let the boys basketball team play, which prompted him to include the girls team in this year’s alumni game. Because they contacted Peter he was able to work with them and include them in the game. After hearing the rumors about why the girls soccer game was cancelled and that he spends more money on girls teams, Peter said, “nobody has ever reached out to me for an explanation or clarification.” If a problem ever comes up, he said, send an email to the athletic department.