Genevieve Twachtman and Zoe Redding
“We’re here and we’re winning”
The WHHS varsity girls’ basketball team reflects on the lack of support they believe they receive from the student body.
Two hours a day. Six days a week. 39 weeks a year.
This is how much time WHHS girls’ varsity basketball players dedicate to perfecting their craft. Likewise, the boys’ varsity team practices diligently daily, practicing two hours a day, six days a week and 22 weeks a year. However, this is where the similarity between these two teams ends. While the boys’ team can count on their stands being filled to the brim game after game, the girls’ team has grown all too familiar with an empty student section.
“The girls’ fans can probably only fill up half the gym while the boys can nearly sell out tickets. The Nuthouse of a girl’s game is the same 10 to 15 people and the nuthouse section of a boy’s game is full to capacity,” SENIOR Kiara Brown-Turnbow, manager of the girls’ varsity basketball team, said. “We’re used to it by now. We just wish things were different.”
A supportive audience adds to the energy of a game, and with it, the intensity of the team. This is similar to how in the NFL, playing at home is seen as an advantage due to the larger numbers of fans present to cheer that team on.
“I feel like student support just shows an athlete that their fellow students care. Having support and energy gives the athletes an extra push to play harder,” Brown-Turnbow said. “The game’s energy goes from a high school game to an NBA game when the stands are full. It’s just an amazing feeling when you have people behind you cheering you on.”
While the boys’ varsity basketball team has the WHHS varsity cheer team cheering them during their games, the cheer team rarely cheers for girls’ basketball.
“The only reason we don’t cheer for the girls is because that would mean we would be cheering every day of the week,” varsity cheerleader Amyll Dawson, ‘24, said.
Although the cheer team tries to support the girls’ team, cheering for the boys’ games occupies a lot of their time. One solution Dawson has been working to put into place is adding another cheer team assigned to only girls’ games.
“With that comes a lot of extra stuff because we need another coach to be there on Tuesdays and Thursdays for their games. It’s definitely something I want to try to work to get for them because I feel like they deserve support too,” Dawson said.
Ultimately, the spirit of the student section and the girls’ team is greatly impacted by things such as cheerleaders not being present at games. It has also led to a sense of discouragement amongst members of the girls’ varsity team.
“It makes the team feel less important because of our sex. We practice just as hard and we don’t get the same respect,” Brown-Turnbow said.
This contrast in support is not due to a lack of trying to get people out to games.
“Our former athletic director Steve Ellison would give free tickets to people if they’d come to girl games. He tried all kinds of promotions, half-court shots, ticket giveaway raffles, but it didn’t make much of a difference,” Adam Lazar, the girls’ varsity basketball head coach, said.
Lazar and the team also express that their attendance is significantly lower as a result of their support being dependent on how well they are doing that season.
“We feel like we only get supported for winning. When we had a really good year and went to Sweet 16 two years in a row, people were coming to games,” Lazar said. “Boys’ basketball gets support no matter what their record is. For girls’ [basketball], we better be winning.”
Gender inequality in sports is not a new story. The NBA notoriously draws significantly more viewership than the WNBA does, with the NBA averaging 1.2 million more viewers a game than the WNBA in the 2021-2022 season.
“Personally, I see a huge difference between support of girls’ sports and boys’ sports. Not only does it start with high school, but it continues with college and professional sports too,” SENIOR Nija Olagbemiro, a WHHS varsity girls’ basketball player, said.
The NBA is a much larger organization than the WNBA, so the $6.3 million difference in average salary between the two makes sense. The question is, how did it become like this?
“Start by asking yourself, why don’t I take girls as seriously as guys? They’re both playing basketball, so what’s with the difference in support?” Dawson said.
The fight for gender equality is far from over. Women have been fighting for equal rights since the beginning of time, with early examples including Abigail Adams asking her husband to “remember the ladies” while establishing the new American government.
Furthermore, it was only 51 years ago that the U.S. Department of Education passed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act entitled Title IX that prohibited sex-based discrimination within schools and sports programs.
Even though change throughout history has happened gradually, it has happened. Civil rights aren’t achieved overnight. Efforts by the women’s rights movement continue to this day, like when the U.S. women’s soccer team won its lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for equitable pay in Feb. 2022.
“I was very happy because it has been a problem that has been largely ignored for years. It was nice to see it actually acknowledged,” SENIOR Eva Ludke, a varsity girls’ soccer player, said.
The women’s team, who won the 2019 World Cup, received $110,000 for their success. However, if the men had won in 2018, they would have received $407,000. This difference in World Cup prize money was a sticking point in the lawsuit negotiations.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I was happy to see a little bit of progress being made towards equality,” Ludke said.
Despite barriers, women in sports continue to fight for equality in wages and support every day and, as shown by the U.S. women’s soccer team, small victories are won daily.
During the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the viewership was 22% higher than that of the men’s in 2018. In 2022, the WNBA set a viewership record of 379,000 viewers per game. Since the passing of Title IX, there has been a 545% rise in the percentage of women taking part in college sports and a 990% increase in women playing high school sports.
When met with obstacles, women have risen to the occasion. This holds true with the WHHS varsity girls’ basketball team, who have made it their mission to continue to keep their morale high despite their frustrations.
“I think the only way for it to change is for people to start having conversations on why they don’t support their winning girls’ sports team,” Olagbemiro said.
In the future, the team hopes to fill up the stands and spread the word about their accomplishments.
“We want to keep making people aware of what we’re doing. We’re here and we’re winning,” Lazar said.