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Broward to keep sports cuts despite FHSAA reversal
The state changed its mind, but Broward County is holding firm.
Faced with a Title IX lawsuit, the Florida High School Athletic Association voted 15-0 Wednesday to rescind an April decision that cut varsity schedules by 20 percent for all sports except football and competitive cheerleading.
Junior varsity sports faced a 40 percent cut. Now, school districts around the state are free to revert to older scheduling mandates.
The move was originally intended to help cash-strapped school districts save money, but critics challenged its legality saying the plan disproportionally affected girls.
Last month, a group headed by former Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the FHSAA. A hearing is scheduled on the case for Friday in Jacksonville.
She said that local school districts are in the line of fire if they make cuts for all sports except football.
"Individual counties are also beholden to these same rules," Hogshead-Makar said Wednesday in Gainesville. "If they have to make cuts they have to do it in a gender equitable agreement."
Damian Huttenhoff, Broward's director of athletics and activities, said he isn't worried about violations of Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 prohibiting gender discrimination in sports.
Huttenhoff said the county will go ahead with the planned varsity cuts, although a decision on JV sports has not been made.
Girls' flag football will be the exception, going back to its original 12-game schedule.
"We just need to take a look across the board," Huttenhoff said. "I feel good with our gender equity numbers." During the 2008-2009 school year, Broward public schools had 15,305 high school athletes--7,886 of them were boys (52 percent) while 7,419 were girls (48 percent).
According to a county report, some sports -- such as soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball -- had more girl participants than boys.
"I think the county does make a strong effort to keep the funding and numbers equal," said Northeast girls' volleyball coach Rainee Porsch. "There are a lot of counties in Florida where women's sports struggle more than we do."
In April, the school board endorsed the FHSAA cuts as a viable cost-cutting option that would save four sports facing elimination. The county also has laid off teachers, moved to a four-day summer work week and is considering unpaid furloughs.
"I didn't mind the cuts," Cypress Bay girls' soccer coach Kate Dwyer said. "I believe in Title IX. I played in college and I coached in college, but what's five games when you're going to save jobs?"
Huttenhoff did say he is open to the idea of individual teams adding tournament games to their schedules at their own expense.
While the members of the Broward County Athletic Association will keep the reduced schedules, Wednesday's decision means the private schools not in the BCAA can revert to last year's guidelines.
Team sports such as volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer can again play 25 games if they choose.
"We'd like to play as many games as we can," American Heritage athletic director Byron Walker said. "We understand what they were trying to do, but after the lawsuit came up, [FHSAA executive director] Roger [Dearing] made a great decision. This was going to be a big expense when they were trying to save money."
Staff writer Buddy Collings contributed to this report.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos can be reached at ccabrera@SunSentinel.com.