Written by Joy Huang
On Aug. 25, female athletes found signs outside of their locker room that read: “Girls’ locker room closed at 5:15 p.m. today for varsity football game.” The Lynbrook football team would be occupying the girls’ locker room, and the female athletes had to take their belongings from their lockers before the room closed. This trend continued for the Sept. 8 game. After seeing the visiting football players fill up the girls’ locker room aisles before 5:15 p.m. and overhearing one football player scream an expletive at a freshman girl on Sept. 8, cross country athlete senior Tjasa Kmetec informed the administration on Sept. 11 how the female athletes were affected by the boys’ usage of the locker rooms.
Assistant Principal Pier Angeli La Place promptly responded by contacting Athletic Director Curtis Johansen to implement a different plan. “This an equity issue,” La Place said. “I do not believe that a male sport should supercede or [be] given more value or importance than girls’ sports. Which is what I told [Kmetec].”
The administration took immediate action, and the visiting football teams were directed to use the Titan Gym boys’ locker room instead of the Bow Gym girls’ locker room for the next home game on Oct. 13 (a game later cancelled) and every subsequent game. On Oct. 20, a Schoology message informed the student body that the girls’ locker room would be closed for the Homecoming football game, but according to Johansen, the message was incorrect and the locker rooms were not closed that day.
Johansen says the visiting team used the girls’ locker room in the beginning of the season because Titan Gym locker rooms only have one bathroom and are too small for the vis- iting teams, which usually consist of 30 to 40 players.“ e idea initially is that we have a bigger space for a lot of people coming in, and that would be the case of any team, male or female,” he said.
Another reason to separate the two football teams is to prevent any complications that could happen. “Sometimes visiting teams are well-behaved people, but sometimes you can have a few bad apples,” Johansen said.
La Place said that the reason is understandable because placing the home and visiting team in the same space may cause supervision issues, so she and Johansen discussed cre- ating a plan that would give the two football teams separate spaces while not a ecting female athletes.
Johansen said that his intention was to be a good host for the visiting teams. “We’re never trying to make it so that one group is being prioritized over another; it’s not what we stand for,” he said. “We stand for trying to make sure everybody had what they need to have.”
La Place believes that this issue was caused by the lack of awareness. “I want to say that I think it was with the best of intentions; I don’t think that our Athletic Director or anyone else [was] intending for this to be an unfair situation,” she said. “Almost always, institutionalized inequalities are done without awareness of the potential impact.”
Johansen and La Place plan to continue communicating with coaches to make sure that the visiting teams will use the Titan Gym locker rooms.
According to La Place, who is in charge of athletics and equity, the original plan had the potential to violate Title IX. “Whether it violates the law of Title IX or not, I definitely think of it as an equity issue that has to be addressed,” she said. “It’s something that we have to be aware of and change.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s website states: “Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states ‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.’” The website also states that when Title IX is applied, “[it] requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of…locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities…”
On the days when the girls’ locker room closed early, some female athletes’ performances were affected, as they could not access their lockers and changing space after practice. For Rufer, the early closure meant she had to cut her workouts short. “When the locker rooms closed early, I had to run a shorter distance so I would get back before they closed,” she said.
Senior Maia Foelsch, a female player on the football team, lost her space to change before her games. “I have to change in the parking lot— I change in my car a lot,” she said. “It’s kind of embarrassing in some ways because sometimes people see me changing, including my teammates. they will walk past and give me weird looks or something like that because they don’t know that the girls’ locker room is closed.” Since the girls’ bath- room is in the girls’ locker room, Foelsch sometimes had to wait or use the boy’s bathroom. “It’s kind of just demeaning, and I don’t feel comfortable using the guy’s bathroom often because there are guys in there,” she said.
Her lack of locker space meant the loss of not only a changing space and bathroom, but also of a space for herself to reflect on her games. “After the game, sometimes I just want a space to myself and to sit because a lot of players do that,” she said. “I just kind of want to be left alone after a game, say if we have a bad loss or something, but I don’t have that space so I just have to manage on my own outdoors.”
Kmetec felt that the needs of the football team, which mainly consists of males, were placed above those of female athletes. “I don’t think that the girls’ locker room should ever be considered a backup for the boys,” she said. “The girls’ locker room is a safe space for young women. It should never be considered some place where when there are too many boys they can go to.” She said that she felt degraded as a female and that letting the visiting team use the girls’ locker room is not what Gunn stands for. “The bottom line is, it’s really important for us to be respected as full- edged athletes, scholars, members of the community,” Kmetec said. “Things like this really tear that down and change the game. It is putting the male athletes above the female athletes, and that’s something nobody is aiming for.”
Foelsch also thought that this was an equity issue. “I’m trying to play a sport, and I should be treated equally,” she said. “I work just as hard as the guys; they even get their own team room with their own personal locker rooms, so I deserve a space to change and a locker space just as much as they do.”
La Place encourages students to communicate any concerns they have to the administration so a sustaining solution can be implemented. “We are talking about people’s lives, and the unfairness of something that is embedded in a system that is inequitable just has to be addressed,” she said. “I see my work as educating people, bringing it to people’s attention, and working to solve these issues, so that we are always moving toward a greater inclusion and equity.”