Students benefit from new basketball rules
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Jaunna Cobb, 11, thought she lost her chance to play basketball this season when she was cut from the fourth and fifth grade co-ed team at Pittsburgh Montessori PreK-8.
But when Pittsburgh Public Schools changed the rules and required that each school field both a boys' and a girls' team for either team to compete in an elementary league, Jaunna got a second chance.
"Now we have more teams than ever before," said Cory Herschk, the boys' coach at Dilworth PreK-5 and one of the new league organizers. "Not only are the kids excited, so are we."
As a result of the controversial rule, the number of elementary girls' teams has jumped in a year from three to 14. Total teams also jumped from 16 to 28.
The changes stemmed from a complaint that the district wasn't offering equal athletic opportunities for young women.
Despite worries that the rule might take away opportunities from students if the school couldn't fill both rosters, the district said that every school that wanted to provide teams was able to.
At Phillips K-5 on the South Side, girls competed with boys on a co-ed team last season.
Principal Rodney Necciai said his perspective changed when 15 of 50 total fourth and fifth grade girls came out to play this year.
"I really did believe that the co-ed situation was working well for us, and I've absolutely turned the corner at this point because I see how excited our girls are about the opportunity," he said.
"I feel like its better this year because we actually get to play against other schools," said Mia Stanton, an 11-year-old Dilworth guard.
Last year the Dilworth girls' team arranged scrimmages against a few other schools but mostly practiced against each other, she said.
But the issue isn't as cut and dry to some volunteer coaches, who oftentimes juggle their basketball duties with full-time teaching jobs and now find themselves shouldering the financial burden of the extra teams this season.
"A lot of people don't understand why we were so upset when this all came down," said Lauren Mallinger, coach of the Montessori girls' team. "There's not enough man or woman-power to coach these teams because we are over-extended."
She said the cash-strapped district didn't offer any financial help when it required the equally destitute schools to double the number of teams they offered.
Ms. Mallinger, a physical education teacher, said uniforms, referee costs, transportation and league fees can cost up to $1,000 a team, which often falls into the hands of coaches to find the money or pay out of pocket.
Nevertheless, Mr. Necciai said the new league rules had the best possible conclusion.
"It was a little bit of a gamble, but it worked out," he said.
First Published February 13, 2012 12:57 am