Double dutch bust

Urban schools need more sports opportunities for girls.


Lynn Harris
March 18, 2009 7:27PM (UTC)

It's starting to feel like spring here in New York City, and you know what that means: the sprouting of clusters of urban crocuses, the premature advent of flip-flops, and the outpouring of schoolkids into parks, pockets stuffed with cans of grape soda and fistfuls of jump ropes. And, in city sports news that you may have forgotten, those gals you see rocking the double dutch will now have their competitive counterparts.

As the New York Times (along with the AP and many others) reported last summer, "Come next spring ... as part of an effort to increase the number of students -- particularly girls -- participating in competitive athletics, the city will create coed double-dutch teams at 10 high schools, many in predominantly black neighborhoods like Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem where the ropes have long swung on asphalt playgrounds."

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Double yay. Except: According to today’s WomensENews, in cities nationwide, there aren’t nearly enough such programs to go around.

"Title IX is great but in order to bring about change it takes activism on the parts of parents and people who understand legislation," said Tina Sloan Green, co-founder and president of the Philadelphia-based Black Women in Sport Foundation, who was instrumental in getting the NYC program off the ground. "First, parents have to know how sports can benefit their daughters."

(Yes, double dutch is a sport. You try it.)

(And yes, boys do it, too.) 

One parent told WeNews that her shy 9-year-old daughter had become "more outspoken" and "more open in a group setting" since joining a double dutch team. Studies also consistently show that on average, and contrary to bonehead jock stereotype, kids who play sports tend to perform better in school than kids who don't.

But inner-city girls of color have some of the lowest rates of sports participation among U.S. adolescents, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. They face what WeNews calls a "double whammy": They "typically don't have resources or access to open spaces and they also face unfair competition for scarce resources at school." To the degree that that competition is gender-based, can Title IX help? Yes, in theory, but unlike colleges and universities, high schools are not required to report gender breakdowns by sport, resources and funding -- so it’s tough to get a handle on what’s actually going on. Sen. Olympia Snowe has reintroduced the High School Athletics Accountability Act (originally introduced by New York Rep. Louise Slaughter) and the High School Sports Information Collection Act, which would require public schools to report the gender of student-athletes and the financing of girls' and boys' athletics teams. According to Slaughter, such data would increase Title IX compliance and boost athletic opportunities for both girls and boys (insofar as, in this day and economy, such opps are available in the first place).

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The trick is also to get them started young, before they’re old enough to feel like dorks learning something they’re not good at yet. The later they start, the more likely they are to give up. The WSF study found that by 11th and 12th grades, 84 percent of urban girls reported no physical education classes during the previous week. Forget the claim that urban girls just aren’t interested, experts say; build it, twirl it, throw it, kick it -- early -- and they will come."Very few people dreamed about going around the world either," said Don Sabo, research director at the WSF. "Dreams, aspirations and interests are influenced by the kinds of opportunities and perceived realities that inhabit their world. If there were more programs out there, girls would play."

I now include this, because it is awesome.

Updates: (1) As it turns out, Tina Sloan Green had nothing to do directly with NYC's double dutch programs; I was misled by a pronoun reference in the original article. In fact, Brooklynite Ruth Payne has been credited by the Public Schools Athletic League for helping initiate competitive double dutch. (2) Double dutch is now in 17 NYC high schools, not 10, as was first reported by the NYT last summer.

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Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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