Girls’ sports fight for Friday night lights

Nov. 28, 2023, 3:20 p.m. | By Lillian Paterson, Sudhish Swain | 7 months, 3 weeks ago

At Blair, boys’ sports are consistently more celebrated than girls’. The reason: MCPS’ inequitable home game scheduling

The fall 2023 high school sports season was full of exhilarating games, disappointing losses, and nail-biting wins, many of which were celebrated under the white haze of Friday night lights. But let’s be honest, who really gets to shine under those lights?

The short answer? Boys.

This fall season, there were six Friday night home games for boys’ sports. For girls’, there was only one. The rest of the year, Friday nights will host sixteen boys’ home games and seven girls’ home games. Boys’ sports will have 40 home total games year-round. Girls’ sports will have 36. Montgomery County preaches equity and inclusion in and out of school, so why doesn’t this extend to athletics?

Athletics Scheduling

According to Blair’s athletic director (AD) Rita Boule, the county sports schedule is put together by ADs all across MCPS. For the fall season, football games are always put into the schedule first. “Football has to be Thursday or Friday,” Boule says.

After the football season is put into the calendar, ADs schedule and coordinate practice and games for the remaining sports of the season. That includes boys' soccer, girls' soccer, field hockey, and volleyball.

This year, Blair had five football home games, four of which were on Fridays except for a Thursday night game on Sept. 8 against Seneca Valley, which was scheduled to make space for boys’ soccer to play Sherwood the following Friday. “At first, we couldn’t fit the Sherwood boys’ soccer game into our schedule… so a resolution to not finding a place for the Sherwood game was to put it on that Friday night,” Boule says. 

Friday night games are ideal for students: it’s the end of the week, so students don't have to worry about homework, tests, or school the next day. Because of this, the Blazer Ragers, Blair’s spirit club, focus on promoting Friday games on their Instagram. “I think a major problem with getting attendance to girls’ games is that a lot of them are not scheduled on Fridays… People don’t want to go to games on the weekdays because we have homework and other things we’ve been asked to do,” Blazer Rager co-leader Mireya King says. 

Scheduling over twice as many boys’ sports games on Fridays than girls’ means boys’ sports are more publicized. In turn, girls’ teams receive less crowd support. “We got overshadowed by the boys because [boys’ soccer] had more home games,” girls’ varsity soccer senior midfielder Alma Zhong says. 

It’s not just a lack of Friday night home games that causes this overshadowing. This fall season, Blair boys’ soccer played two more home games than girls’ soccer. These games were played back-to-back, one on Sept. 21 and the next on Sept. 26. The girls’ soccer team was scheduled to play two away games in a row to accommodate. 

Additionally, the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams' senior nights this year were structured as a doubleheader. The girls' soccer team played first, followed by the boys’. As a result, when the girls’ team began their senior ceremony after a 7-0 win vs. the Blake Bengals, they had less time to honor their seniors, having to clear the field for the start of the boys’ game. “On senior night, we didn't really have that much time to celebrate because the boys' game was starting right after ours… our celebrations were cut short because we were rushed off the field,” Zhong says.

The dramatic difference in attendance between girls' and boys’ teams becomes more apparent at double-header games. “When girls' games go first, there’s not really anyone there and then the boys' game starts and there’s so many people,” says King. “I also went to… the regional championships for soccer [last year], and it was [a doubleheader with] girls and the boys, and I saw the same thing.”

This year, the Blair girls' soccer team made history, becoming the first Blair team to make it to state championships, while the boys' team lost the first round of regional playoffs. Despite this, during the regular season, the girls' team was significantly less supported compared to the boys' team.

A packed student section cheers as the Blair girl's soccer team makes history, becoming the first team to make it to the state championships. Photo courtesy of Gabe Marra-Perrault.

But this extends beyond soccer. For junior field hockey player Eloisa Somedevilla, the lack of attendance is commonplace. “[The crowd is] mostly parents,” says Somodevilla. “It'd be different if we expected attendance and didn't get any, but we don't expect any.”

No matter how complicated the sports scheduling process may be, there is no excuse for these inequities. Less Friday night home games mean less crowd support. If MCPS continues to neglect the clear disparity between girls’ and boys’ game attendance when scheduling games, they will only contribute to the prevalent but often ignored sexism within the sports community. Fewer home games for girls' sports make it harder for our girls’ teams to establish their presence in the Blair community. “You want the teams to be [at] home so that [they] can get a following. You want the school community to know the team so that they love the team and want to follow the team,” Boule says. 

The gender disparity

The gender disparity isn’t just a county issue. In the last couple of decades, women's sports have only just begun to establish themselves. “I think that boys’ soccer is just more popular because people diminish women's accomplishments in sports,” King, a decorated member of Blair’s track team, says. “The culture around men is that sports is where they go to enjoy hanging out with each other and get… support.” 

In a 2019 study by the University of Southern California/Purdue, researchers found only 5% of sports television coverage focused on women’s athletics, and 80% of sports programs devoted no time to women’s sports at all. This is a systemic issue: whether it be the World Cup, March Madness, or MCPS athletics, men’s sports are more established in our culture than women’s. Even so, by reassessing the current scheduling process, MCPS can assist in alleviating the gender disparity at a local level. 

The solution

The idea that equitability and inclusivity are put into consideration within all policies, practices, and procedures of MCPS must be expanded to athletic scheduling. “Equity demands intensive focus and attention to eliminate all gaps in student achievement,” MCPS writes in their ACA-RA Nondiscrimination, Equity, and Cultural Proficiency procedures. Whether that be an academic, social, or athletic achievement, MCPS is obligated to address inequities like the gender disparity in athletics. 

ADs examine several variables when organizing the sports season. “School officials and athletic directors have a time frame to tell us all their constraints… I receive every school's constraints and I have to look at every school's constraints and try to build a schedule around it,” Boule says. Adding the additional variable of gender equity to the sports scheduling process is a good first step to level the playing field. 

To do this, athletics administrators must keep a closer track on the amount of home games per sport, and consider how variables like timing and day of the week can affect student turnout for a sport. If there is a boys' Friday home game one week, there should be a girls' Friday home game the next week. 

“The crowd plays a huge role in how us student-athletes perform and represent our school … I wish there was more support for us and for women's sports,” Zhong says. The imbalance of game scheduling and attendance between boys’ and girls’ teams needs to be addressed by MCPS. Student-athletes deserve to be able to shine under Friday night lights, no matter who they are or what sport they play. MCPS Athletics must take into consideration the existing struggles girls’ teams face to build a presence for themselves when developing schedules.

Silver Chips Online covers boys’ and girls’ sports equally and allocates writing, video, and photo resources to games accordingly.

Last updated: Dec. 18, 2023, 1:44 p.m.

Tags: Blair Athletics MCPS policy Girls Soccer #boys' soccer

Lillian Paterson. Hey, I'm Lillian (she/her) and I'm a co-sports and co-op-ed editor for SCO. When I'm not being totally consumed by school work I like to play guitar and read! More »

Sudhish Swain. Hi! I'm Sudhish (he/him) and I'm one of the sports editors as well as a videographer. I often record videos at games, write beats, post recaps/galleries/videos on our social medias, and more! Besides SCO, I love running, listening to music, and learning new languages! More »

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