CINCINNATI (AP) – It isn’t feasible for Michigan high schools to conduct boys’ and girls’ basketball seasons at the same time, because schools have limited practice facilities, an attorney for the state athletic association told federal appellate judges yesterday.
“Most schools in Michigan have only one gym,” said Maureen Mahoney, representing the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
She told judges that it would be counterproductive to move to a single season, when boys’ and girls’ varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams all would be vying for practice time.
“Many girls will lose the opportunity to play basketball,” she said.
The hearing before a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest round in a battle that began when the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Communities for Equity sued the Michigan High School Athletic Association in June 1998.
The group contends that Michigan high schools discriminate against female athletes by scheduling their basketball, volleyball and other sports seasons during nontraditional times of the year, and that hurts girls’ chances at college scholarships.
The group’s attorney, Kristen Galles, told the court that maintaining separate seasons was clearly illegal because it shows “disparate treatment.”
“They treat boys and girls differently,” she said. “Once you show there is intent to treat differently, that is the only intent you have to show. You do not have to show evil motive.”
Mahoney said the decision to have girls play basketball in the fall and volleyball in the winter was a “good faith decision” based on recommendations of coaches and the best interest of the female athletes.
“There is strong sentiment that this maximizes participation opportunities,” Mahoney said.
Communities for Equity won its suit at the district court level in December 2001. The MHSAA appealed U.S. District Judge Richard Alan Enslen’s decision, but the appeal was denied by the 6th Circuit. The association then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which told the appeals court in Cincinnati to reconsider the case.
The same three-judge panel that rejected the original appeal in 2004 heard yesterday’s arguments. Judges did not say when they would rule.
In remanding the case, the Supreme Court said it needed to be viewed in light of the high court’s 2005 ruling in Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, which bars certain lawsuits when a different portion of federal law, such as Title IX, provides a remedy.
Under questioning from the panel, Galles said she disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling and criticized the athletic association for continuing to oppose the nationwide movement to parallel seasons.
Michigan is the only state where high school girls play volleyball in the winter, and one of two states to play girls basketball outside of winter. Hawaii girls play in the spring.
Golf, tennis and soccer also would be affected by the pending ruling.
Girls’ golf is scheduled for spring, which is that sport’s traditional season in most states. However, in Michigan, fall is considered the superior golf season, and that’s when the boys play.