Inequality in the stands

By Tom Wheadon
managing feature

Historically men have been perceived as more athletically inclined than their female counterparts. Since the 1970s this perception has been gradually shed as women sports have gained in popularity, though some do believe that there is still unfounded negativity towards female athletes and teams. At DHS there is a host of both girl and boy teams, and while they all have varying degrees of success, there are some who do not believe they are treated and viewed correspondingly.

“I can almost guarantee you that not all teams are treated equally by fans based on gender,” senior, soccer player and swimmer Joey Knoff said. “If you look at the attendance levels of sports like basketball, swimming, and soccer, you will notice that the male teams have dramatically higher attendance levels than the female sports.”

Senior Kelly Wilson has been playing for DHS’s SVL winning varsity soccer team since her freshman year, as well basketball. She has also noticed a significant difference in fan turnout for boys and girls teams.

“Girls teams are looked over completely; I wish people would attend our games,” Wilson said. “For basketball we rarely had any fans besides parents and a couple students. For soccer we get more fans, but not nearly to the extent of the boys’ sports.”

Athletic Director Bob Wellman, who used to coach JV boys basketball and currently coaches girls varsity basketball, contributes this disparity in audiences to fallacies and the differing styles of girls and boys sports.

“Boys basketball has received a larger fan base than girls even when the girls had a more successful season, the reasoning there may be because the boy’s game is a faster game,” Wellman said. “You get an overall larger fan base at boys’ events and I believe that is primarily because most fans don’t feel the girls’ game can be as exciting, in which I think they are wrong. Both boys are girls athletics are a lot of fun to watch.”

Senior and tennis player Kelli Close has made similar observations.

“I think that females are just thought of as being less athletic which I definitely think is a misconception,” Close said. “There are so many great female athletes at DHS who are continuing on to play in college but for some reason it just is never as big of a deal as a male who goes on to be a collegiate athlete.”

Senior Sean Cushman, who plays both varsity basketball and baseball, is another who shares this mentality.

“When people watch female sports they tend to make fun of the people playing more because they expect that girls aren’t as good as the guys,” Cushman said.

Senior and varsity tennis player Patricia Bartlett believes this stems from the past perception of female sports.

“I believe that the boys sport teams receive more support from fans and the Charger family than girls’ sports,” Bartlett said. “Traditionally there were only boys sports, therefore more publicity and support have been given to them.”

Junior Rachel Arthur, who’s a member of DHS undefeated girl swim team, also cited publicity as a potential reason for this.

“Guys sports get a lot more hype than the girls do even though, for [swim] at least, the girls are more consistent with victory,” Arthur said. “I think maybe because it is advertised more.”

Others, such as senior Marcus Hjalber who has been on soccer and tennis teams, thinks that the difference in fan bases result from the more physical nature of male supports.

“I think most fans watch more male sports as opposed to female sports because they are more intense if it’s a contact sport,” Hjalber said.

This is a statement echoed by sophomore Christina Auyeung, a former DHS tennis player who now competes in tournaments outside of school.

“I believe that male sports have a higher reputation mostly because they play more sports, like for example girls don’t play football or wrestle usually,” Auyeung said. “And also because some people don’t believe that pom or cheer is a sport, so that also takes away some of the reputations for female sports.”

Senior Susan Fennell, who earned MVP last year for varsity softball and is also a player for the varsity basketball team, has a similar mind set.

“The difference between playing basketball and playing softball alone is huge,” Fennell said. “You can’t even compare it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but obviously some sports will get more attention than others and some sports are more intense than others.”

Knoff is under the impression that it’s not necessarily purely girls teams that get poor attendance, but rather a number of girls and boy sports.

“The one thing that frustrates me with sports at DHS is that the teams continuously perform at the top level in the state, like our swim teams and tennis teams, hardly have any support at their matches,” Knoff said. “I’ll be honest, I’m a culprit as well, seeing as I’ve never watched a tennis match, but it is sad that the teams are under appreciated.”

Knoff attributes this to the lack of popularity or hype surrounding these sports in comparison to others.

“There are teams at Dow that get the attendance just because they are the stereotypical ‘Jock’ sports, and that to me is disappointing,” Knoff said.

Fennell agrees with this.

“Overall, I think the fan base for both guys and girls sports is spectacularly poor,” Fennell said. “Why does this occur? One, we don’t have time; and two, we don’t really care.”

Hand in hand with attendance comes treatment and respect. four year varsity swimmer JT Ludington believes all DHS students generally act positive in regards to teams and athletes regardless of gender.

“Yes, I believe the teams are treated equally,” Ludington said. “I’ve found that generally, the Dow High student body has high regard for their student athletes. This comes in part because so many participate in sports, and respect the other athletes, and want to continue the support given to them. This does not necessarily mean that the team gets large numbers of spectators at an event, but it does mean the student body supports and respects the team, and its accomplishments.”

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