Kanto league to consider changes after complaint of gender discrimination
January 26, 2007
A parent’s complaint about gender equity in sports has challenged the validity of a Tokyo-area high school league’s designation of wrestling as boys-only and prompted that league to consider restricting venues and teams that are invited to its tournaments.
The issue arose after a Kanto Plain Association of Secondary School Principals-sanctioned wrestling meet at Yokota High School on Dec. 9.
A female from Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa Air Base was forced under KPASSP rules to forfeit a bout to a male wrestler from St. Mary’s International School.
The league, which consists of international private, missionary and U.S. military schools, prohibits girls from wrestling in events that it sanctions.
Edgren and E.J. King High School at Sasebo Naval Base are not members of the Kanto league but were invited to particiapte in the tournament as exhibition teams. Tournament organizers said all particpants were made aware of the league rules beforehand.
But Jeanine Steele, mother of one of Edgren’s female wrestlers, Heather Steele, cried foul when 108-pounder Chanel Doinoff had to forfeit after wrestling her way to the third-place bout.
Steele, a tech sergeant assigned as a ground radio communications technician at Misawa, filed a letter of complaint Jan. 4 with the Department of Education, the Women’s Sports Foundation and New York senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, each Democrats.
In her letter, Steele contends Doinoff’s forfeiture is a violation of federal Title IX regulations.
“I don’t think it’s fair that she was forced to give up a chance to compete … for the sole fact that she is female,” Steele stated in her letter.
As of Wednesday, DODDS officials and Steele said they had not received a response about Steele’s letter.
Enacted in 1974 as education amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX mandates gender equity in sports at U.S. schools receiving federal assistance.
“This [KPASSP] constitution should not exist in a DODDS world. It’s federally run,” said Steele.
She said she believes KPASSP’s designation of wrestling as a boys-only sport “stifles” girls wanting to wrestle at the three DODDS schools that are members of the Kanto league — Yokota, Zama American and Kinnick. “That in itself discourages girls from even wanting to try out” for wrestling, she said.
None of the three schools has ever had a female wrestler on the varsity squad.
DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charles Steitz said the DODDS schools were not violating Title IX by participating.
“We adhere to all the guidelines and regulations which apply to an organization which receives federal funds. We have never discouraged female wrestlers,” he said.
“Unfortunately, when there is a KPASSP wrestling meet, other [non-DODDS] schools … may independently choose not to compete because some of these international schools have designated that sport ‘Boys Wrestling,’ ” he said.
Belonging to the association, Steitz said, gives DODDS-Japan athletes more diversified competition with a wider range of schools.
“We try our best to provide our students with the very best in … extracurricular activities. Therefore, we have co-curricular activities allowing our students to compete against the international schools, providing them with additional experience,” he said.
Edgren principal Michael Johnson wanted additional experience for his school’s wrestlers and said “we understood that we would be there as exhibition only, we understood that the tournament was run under KPASSP rules and that females facing wrestlers other than DODDS would have to forfeit.”
Steitz, administrators and athletic directors say everyone knew the gender rules before particiapting in the Dec. 9 event.
DODDS-Pacific officials contacted Edgren and E.J. King to clarify the event was a KPASSP event wrestled under that league’s rules: “Specifically, that the international schools would not wrestle a female,” Steitz said.
“All of us seemed to understand, it was communicated and accepted that this was how the tournament would go,” said Bonnie Seeley, athletic director at Yokota High School on Yokota Air Base.
Doinoff’s 108-pound bracket was arranged so that she would come up against DODDS competitors in the first two rounds. She never even stepped to the mat for the next bout.
“We knew that the third match would be a tossup as to who she would wrestle — DODDS or international school,” Steitz said. “This gave her a chance to participate, thereby gaining additional experience.”
Steele wasn’t satisfied. She said she’d voiced her disagreement to Edgren coach Justin Edmonds. She said he told her she was “not going to solve anything” by challenging the KPASSP constitution and its validity “in this kind of environment.”
“I told him that I planned to bring it up and make people aware that this was happening,” Steele said she told Edmonds.
Attempts to reach Edmonds for comment have not been successful.
As to Steele’s assertion that the rule “stifles” female participation in the DODDS schools, Steitz said it is difficult to answer without surveying all seventh- and eighth-grade girls to see what they would do when they become freshmen.
“I can’t get inside their heads,” Steitz said. “(But) we always encourage our students, both male and female, to compete at every level and in all extracurricular activities and events.”
The result of the dispute, Steitz said, might be that future KPASSP wrestling tournaments will be at international schools and designated for boys only.
Such steps are to be discussed when officials with Kanto Plain Association of Secondary School Principals meet next month, according to KPASSP league and DODDS-Pacific officials.
“Tournaments at DODDS-Japan high schools [would] be invitational and open to girls; an international school boy who refuses to wrestle a girl [would] forfeit the match to her.”
Edgren has been trailblazer for female wrestling
Edgren’s program has been a trailblazer for wrestling gender equity in recent years. Four girls have wrestled for the Eagles since 1999 — Janine Kunsch, Stoney Sasser, Chanel Doinoff and Heather Steele — though none wrestled for Edgren’s varsity in a Far East tournament. During the 2001-02 season the school had a female coach, April Scott.
Neither Yokota nor Zama has ever fielded girl wrestlers on their high school squads. Two years ago, Kinnick’s JV team featured two girls; neither wrestled at Far East.
In 2002, then-Yokota High coach Mark Hanssen and then-Yokota Middle School coach Brian Kitts tried to form a middle-school girls team, but that effort died out when no girls came out for wrestling for the 2002-03 season. Kitts has since become the high school varsity coach.
— Stars and Stripes
KPASSP member schools
Yokota, Yokota Air Base
Zama American, Camp Zama
Nile C. Kinnick, Yokosuka Naval Base
American School In Japan, Tokyo
St. Maur International, Yokohama
Christian Academy In Japan, Tokyo
St. Mary’s International (boys), Tokyo
Seisen International (girls), Tokyo
International School of the Sacred Heart (girls), Tokyo