BY DYLAN LARSON-HARSCH —
In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX, which aimed to end gender inequality in education. One of the ways the statute did so was by providing equal opportunities for girls in sports, mandating that schools provide adequately funded sports teams for both genders.
This might seem like the end of sex discrimination in school athletics, but one glaring problem has been overlooked for decades.
In Wisconsin, boys in cross country run the standard 5K, about 3.1 miles, whereas girls run only a 4K, about 2.5 miles. Most other states in the US have made the switch to the 5K for both genders: Wisconsin is one of only nine that still run a 4K at their championship meet.
Clearly, this policy is blatantly sexist. It assumes that girls are slower or weaker than boys, and unable to handle an extra 1000 meters.
Advocates for the 4K argue for convenience: the duration it takes for boys to run a 5K and girls to run a 4K is about the same, which means more equality for cross country meets. Also, in college, girls race a shorter distance than boys, so advocates for a 4K say that it makes sense for girls to do the same in high school. Some coaches say that moving the distance up would mean fewer girls would try out for the team out of fear of the longer distance.
These arguments present blatant flaws. Having both genders run 5Ks would make it easier for a meet organizer because they would only have to set up a course for one distance instead of two. And just because there is sexism present on the collegiate level doesn’t mean it has to be the same in high school. Haley Holan, class of 2013 and a former Shorewood athlete, said that making the jump to a 6K was harder for her than other girls on the team who had run 5Ks in high school because she had a greater jump distance from a 4K to a 6K. The coaches that complain of a loss of athletes clearly are not motivating their runners enough to stick with the sport and become dedicated members of their team.
One of the most convincing arguments for girls 5K comes from Molly Seidel, one of the most decorated high school runners in Wisconsin’s history, in her letter to the WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association): “My entire life I’ve been told that a girl can do anything a guy can do, and the majority of the country’s high school programs agree. We female athletes run hundreds of miles and work hard everyday to train our bodies for the cross country season, dedicating just as much effort to our sport as boys do. So why aren’t we allowed to run the same distances?”
Not only would allowing girls to run 5Ks advance gender equality, but it also has practical benefits. When filling out recruiting forms for college, many ask for a girl’s 5K personal best instead of her 4K time, because 5Ks are much more widely run. For girls who train for and race mostly 4Ks, this is a hard question to answer, because often their 5K time is much slower and no way indicative of what they can really do.
Running 4Ks also puts Wisconsinites at a disadvantage on the national level. In national races like Foot Locker, a 5K is the standard distance for boys and girls, and because of their 4K-focused training, Wisconsin girls experience major setbacks. Morgan Florsheim, a sophomore who won the Division Two State Championship in Wisconsin, was unable to qualify at the Foot Locker meet for the Midwest regional team when she ran against girls from states like Illinois and Iowa, who run and train for 5Ks. Florsheim said she felt at a big disadvantage because she had been unable to train to run a 5K during her cross country season.
So what is being done about this issue? Recently, selected Wisconsin coaches met to discuss whether girls should run 5Ks, but it was decided that the discussion should be postponed for another three years. This unwise decision only puts off a pressing issue that deserves to be solved, and squanders an opportunity to make some real change in Wisconsin.
As Molly Seidel put it, “The 1970s ended more than 30 years ago … our time has come.”