Lacrosse: Grayslake parents seeking equal opportunities for girls
It's been four years since eighth grader Ava Owens took up lacrosse.
"A bunch of her friends have older brothers who played lacrosse in high school," mom Tiffany Owens said of her daughter. "And Ava saw that, and she wanted to start playing, too."
So Ava Owens did start playing lacrosse, with a local girls team in Grayslake that competes against similar teams throughout the Chicago area.
But unlike the older brothers of her friends, Owens won't also be playing in high school, for her high school. Unless something changes. And fast.
Tiffany Owens is on a mission to make sure that her daughter Ava gets the chance to play lacrosse at the high school level, for Grayslake Central High School, where she will be enrolling next school year as a freshman.
Problem is, Grayslake Central doesn't offer girls lacrosse.
Neither does the other high school in District 127, Grayslake North.
But both Grayslake Central and Grayslake North offer boys lacrosse.
Tiffany Owens wants to see a fair balance, and at minimum, a co-op girls team shared between Grayslake Central and Grayslake North.
"It's terrible that the girls in the district don't have a lacrosse team," Owens said. "It's enough to get us thinking about moving out of the district. We play a lot in taxes, and for there not to be this opportunity for girls like there is for boys, it's not right.
"There are futures for girls in lacrosse, college scholarships. We want those same opportunities for our girls at the high school level so that they can potentially have a future in the sport beyond that, if that's what they want."
Owens and other parents in the district have gone to district administrators to plead their case.
But they have been told that interest is a problem. They've been told that the district has polled existing students and that there isn't much interest in lacrosse for girls.
So Owens and other parents organized a girls lacrosse clinic last weekend at a park in Grayslake to demonstrate local interest. Nearly 50 girls, mostly ages 10 to 17, showed up.
"I'm just really hoping that the district realizes that there is a need for a team, that there is interest," said Owens, a science teacher at Libertyville High School. "I just think about something that the badminton coach at Libertyville once told me. About four years ago, there wasn't a badminton team at Libertyville and one girl, one girl, at school really wanted to play. And our district said, 'OK. Let's give it a shot.' And now, four years later, 70 kids came out for badminton.
"I think lacrosse is something we can give a try in our district and we could see it grow like that. According to our research, lacrosse is the fastest-growing girls sport in the country. And I do know that we have a lot of kids already who came to our clinic and are interested in lacrosse."
Brian Moe, athletic director at Grayslake Central, says that anytime parents asks the district for its consideration on an issue, that request is taken very seriously.
So, District 127 has and will consider adding girls lacrosse.
But Moe says that one obstacle the district faces comes along conference lines. The Northern Lake County Conference, in which Grayslake Central and Grayslake North are members, does not sponsor girls lacrosse. Not a single school in the eight-team conference sponsors girls lacrosse.
"That's a factor, but it's not the only one," Moe said. "We have boys bowling, and boys bowling is not a conference sport, so it can be done. But it is easier with a conference.
"I think the biggest thing is the interest. Every three years, we survey our students on their interest in activities, and at this point, we haven't seen the numbers support having a girls lacrosse program."
Moe says that the enrollment at Grayslake Central is about 1,300 students and that the school offers 23 sports. Already, 70 percent of the student population plays at least one or more sports each school year.
"We already have so many spring sports and if we were to add another spring sport such as girls lacrosse, where would we get those kids," Moe asked. "If we add a sport, we not only want to get it going, we want to keep it going. Right now, we're not sure we can do that with lacrosse. We're not sure we can sustain a program with the numbers where they're at right now."
But Owens believes that the numbers are actually in favor of adding girls lacrosse.
She says that not only did the clinic prove interest within the district, but that of the 23 sports at both Grayslake Central and Grayslake North, 12 are boys sports and 11 are girls sports.
Owens wonders if that lack of balance is a Title IX issue.
She says that her group of parents is willing to find a Title IX attorney to investigate.
"The district said it would look at the information and get back to us," Owens said. "But if the district doesn't jump on this, we're going to have to reach out to an attorney.
"If we don't stand up for our daughters, then who will? We see it as not only will this help our daughters, it will help all girls who want to play."