Wednesday, March 3, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Bob Frey, Radford High School's assistant wrestling
coach, tries to struggle out of a hold by Heather Robertson.
She went 24-0 on the season, winning the state title in the
121-pound division.

with the
gender issue

While legislators struggle with bills on
gender equity, girls in Hawaii are busy
making inroads, not only competing, but
going to the mat for what they believe in

By Craig Gima


On the eve of the state boys and girls wrestling tournament last week, Heather Robertson of Radford High School and Jessie Rolon, a member of the boys wrestling team, circled each other on a practice mat.

Robertson grabbed Rolon's arm, spun around and flipped him to the ground.

"You gotta come all the way through," volunteer coach Pat Collins told Robertson as he helped her perfect the move, called an arm spin.

Afterward, Rolon said practicing with a girl is no big deal.

"We're here to wrestle, not to think about stuff like that," he said.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Whether you're male or female, injuries are a part of
wrestling. Marie "Aloha" Chavez rests her ankle during practice.

In a different venue -- and about the same time Robertson was going on to win her 121-pound weight class in the state tournament Saturday -- the Senate Ways and Means Committee was considering a bill that could give girls more opportunities to compete in high school sports.

The bill mandates that public schools provide equal opportunities in athletics for boys and girls sports. It sets standards to determine whether there is gender equity in high school sports, and calls on the superintendent and an advisory committee to come up with a plan, rules and an enforcement mechanism to ensure equity.

Wrestlers on Radford's girls team last week testified on a similar House measure, which is expected to be voted on by the full body today. The Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to make a decision on the Senate bill tonight.

Jill Nunokawa of the Gender Equity Sports Club, an attorney who has been active in pushing for gender equity, told lawmakers the state is not in compliance with Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in athletics.

She said a federal lawsuit could lead to another consent decree, much like the Felix decision, that would force the state to spend more money on women's athletics in public schools.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Boys and girls on the Radford High team train together,
as in this conditioning drill, with Brandi Kaslausky at the front.

"If we as a state cannot learn from Felix vs. Waihee, then we have learned no lesson at all," Nunokawa said. "I believe if we simply mandate it within the existing legislative and statute system, it's a way to minimize the inevitable cost."

At Saturday's hearing, athletic directors said they support the Senate bill's intent, but have concerns about penalties and the selection and function of the gender equity advisory committee.

Keith Morioka, athletic director at Waipahu High School, testified that Waipahu's boys volleyball coach is a woman and was hired because she is highly qualified. But he wondered if the bill will require him to hire female coaches who are not qualified.

Athletic directors have been working toward gender equity, Morioka said. But he noted that football creates a situation where a large number of boys and very few girls participate. And a financial imbalance arises because the cost of safety equipment makes football more expensive than other sports, he said.

Yvonne Bolton, whose daughter wrestles for Radford, told the House Finance Committee that the struggles of the girls wrestling team are an example of both the potential and the frustration of girls sports in Hawaii.

Bolton said parents and students successfully waged a public battle last year to get the Hawaii High School Athletic Association to hold a state tournament for girls.

But unlike the boys, she said, the girls who won the state wrestling championship last year did not get medals and their matches were not televised live.

She said that kind of treatment sends the wrong message to girls.

"It shows the kids they are not worthy," Bolton said.


Radford wrestler Marie "Aloha" Chavez and her teammates believe it shouldn't be a struggle to get equal treatment in sports, and said that's why they support the gender equity bill.

"Everything we got we had to fight for," said Chavez, who won the state title in the 155-pound division.

If there were more girls sports, more girls would be encouraged to participate, she said.

Lauwae Smith, a wrestler who graduated from Radford last year and was the national champion in her weight class, said she would like to continue to wrestle in college. But colleges don't offer women's wrestling programs.

While two boys on Radford's team are getting athletic scholarships for college, there are no wrestling scholarships for girls.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Atashe Potter, top, from Maui, defeated Holly Sumida
of McKinley High School to advance in the girls 175-pound
division of the girls state wrestling tournament held last week.

"I'm hoping for that girls scholarship, or that a girls collegiate program will start up," Smith said.

Nunokawa said that, according to Department of Education statistics, 11,153 males participated in high school sports vs. 6,828 females, and that the operating budget for boys sports is more than double that of girls sports.

Superintendent Paul LeMahieu testified in support of the gender equity bill. LeMahieu noted participation in girls sports has more than doubled since 1975, but said more needs to be done.

He said he has ordered his staff to begin development of a strategic plan to reach a goal of gender equity.

Radford was one of the first schools in the nation to start a girls wrestling program in 1993. Before that, girls wrestled on the boys teams.

Bolton pointed out that in just a few years, the number of girls participating has increased to the point where a state championship can be held and Hawaii girls are competing for national championships.

"When girls are given an opportunity," she said, "look at all we can do."

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