Gabby Douglas. Olympic All-Around Champion.
Simone Biles. Four-time Olympic gold medalist.
Alize Cornet. 10 titles in the WTA.
Serena Williams. Oldest person to win a Grand-Slam title and recognized as one of the most notable athletes in history.
All of these women share many similarities. They are renowned athletes in their fields and some of the greatest athletes of all time. They have overcome all odds and have achieved greater heights than ever thought possible. And they all have openly spoken about gender discrimination in the athletic world.
For years the issue had been simmering; it was pushed to the back burner and ignored, forgotten about. The problems kept accumulating quietly, growing with every hushed incident. In recent days, however, these issues have boiled over. In a sudden burst of allegations and accusations the problems have grown larger than the pot and now are the focus of the world.
With the issue in the forefront of the world stage, one must wonder where this type of ideology begins. What kinds of environment the athletes grow in. Students at East responded to this predicament with their own perceptions, opinions, and experiences in their athletic world.
“I care too much.”
An athlete is nothing without a good coach. Just like an author, musician, actor, an athlete’s career depends on those basic lessons taught from day one. Those ideals, expectations, and mindsets are carried throughout their lifetime and even outside of the sport. Like a newborn, it is the coach’s responsibility to guide the young person and teach them the basics. Basics that extend past the weight room, football field, or track and into everyday life.
“I very much depend on my coaches,” junior tennis player Isabella Cortes said. “If I didn’t have them to teach me, I wouldn’t be able to hold a racket correctly let alone compete.”
With such a dependence on the coaches, and in turn the administration, one would assume that any possible problem would stem from there. However, the adult members of the athletic program prove to be genuine and hold much passion for their work and students.
“I care too much about my athletes that if I felt [the female athletes] weren’t getting everything that OE had to offer, I would be the first one to say something about it,” Girls’ Cross Country Coach Lisa Cook said.
Cook explained that any difference in treatment between groups of athletes would be due to individual needs or abilities. Gender is not factored into the equation.
Juan Leal, a girls’ and boys’ soccer coach for seven years, treats his teams with a similar perspective.
“I treat my teams the same. They are both humans, and therefore have the same amount of potential,” Leal said.
A promising and straightforward way of teaching. The coaches at OE appear to carry pride in both their positions and their students. Pride that would not stand any case of bias or unfair treatment in their teams.
Further up the chain of command is Athletic Director Robert Kaminski. Kaminski reflected on his own personal experience with gender bias in sports, and how hard he works to ensure no discrimination like that ever occurs in OE’s halls.
“I do not believe that Oswego East subjects any student to discrimination … There are no differences in the running of any sport, financial allowances, and it is a constant discussion on keeping OE discrimination free,” Kaminski said.
The coaches and administration at OE reflect a positive and modern take on preventing discrimination. It is not tolerated in any way and prevented like a plague. The problems reflected in the media do not appear to be supported by the high school conduct. This may spark the question, though: if these problematic ideas are not being taught in athletics, where are they coming from?
“It’s a social problem.”
The other significant and impressive power in a student’s life, besides their teachers, is their peers. If no apparent fault could be seen in the teachers, it must lie in their peers; or at least societal norms and conventions that lead to problems.
Sophomore badminton player Elizabeth Dyer commended the athletic department for making sure that all of its athletes are treated with respect but still feels that the female sports are often overlooked.
“It’s more the culture of the school to lean towards male sports without realizing it. But there could be a little more effort to support the female athletic events by groups such as Wolf Pack,” Dyer said.
In regards to the peer recognition, game attendance may be the most decisive factor. The social worth of a sport is easily measured by the number of blue and silver clad students chattering in the bleachers. When it comes to the female games, there is a distinct trend in low game attendance.
“I would say that the girls find it more difficult to gain recognition from their peers and I don’t know why. We can’t force game attendance. We can’t [on an administrative level] change that. It extremely bothers me that some students athletes feel less valued or that their sport is less valued than others,” Kaminski said.
Indeed, a pattern of social standards appears to be the source of these discrepancies rather than an institutionalized bias.
“It’s like we’re expected to do more for less. More awards and competition for less freedom, recognition, and respect,” junior powderpuff member Lou Vacassay said.
Of the 15 male athletes interviewed, only one responded with consent to publish his answer and name. Senior track athlete Tim Elliot. As a four-year runner at OE, Elliot is not unfamiliar with the problem and has said he felt discouraged his fellow runners faced more obstacles than he.
“I admit that I, along with most of the male athletes, have underestimated the girl’s sports teams at times. However as a school, we must recognize that it’s a social problem every single one of us is responsible for,” Elliot said.
Hope for the future
In any storm, one must not focus on the grey clouds, but the rainbow that awaits once the storm has been overcome. The rainbow that is worth enduring the thunder and lightning and staying firmly planted through the winds and rain.
Recognition of the road already traveled may help to put into perspective the road left ahead.
“There already has been progress … in the past, dance and cheer were not considered sports. They were groups of girls who gathered to support the boys’ football, but now they are a completely different species. Now they have just as much, if not more, drive, motivation, and discipline than their male counterparts,” Kaminski said.
Kaminski and the rest of the athletic department consistently strive to get the most recognition and celebration for the effort, commitment, and the successes of the student-athletes.
In the end, if one wishes to keep their sanity through controversial issues such as this, one must keep a positive mindset. One must remember a storm is always necessary for a rainbow.
“Nowadays I am beginning to notice a shift away from gender and more towards hard work in the athletic world,” Vydra said. “It may not be a perfect world yet, but this mess happening in the media is the first step to a better world. It really gives me hope for the future.”
Cecilia Cantu & Mythreyi Namuduri are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl