“When you start later, when you’re not getting good training, when you know you’re not very good, and then you have to play a team with more experienced players, like [Woodrow] Wilson [High School], and get crushed 20-0, you quit. The failure feeds itself,” Valdivia said.
In the seven years that Valdivia has run the school’s soccer team, the DC Scores pipeline has boosted his team roster from a handful to more than 100 girls who fill varsity and junior varsity teams. At the same time, he said he’s seen teen pregnancies fall from 35 or 40 a year down to around five.
The National Women’s Law Center, which filed the most recent complaint in June, and other sports organizations say that schools across the country still aren’t providing a fair opportunity for girls to play sports, particularly in urban districts.
In the Washington area, systemwide gaps range from 2.5 percent in Fairfax County, 4.2 percent in Prince George’s County, 7 percent in Montgomery County to 12 percent in D.C. public schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2009 data. Alexandria did not report sports participation by gender that year. And in Arlington County, slightly more girls played sports than were enrolled in school.
Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, said that disparities are most pronounced at schools with high populations of African American and Hispanic students. Eighty-five percent of the student population in D.C. public schools are members of those two groups.
“For girls of color in particular, we know that they’re less physically active during adolescence than white girls, and they’re less likely to participate in sports outside of school than white girls,” Chaudhry said. “So what DC Scores is doing, creating the pipeline early, is critical.”
Building a sports culture
Over the years, Nakamoto and others at DC Scores said they’ve been told that fewer opportunities exist for girls in high school because girls aren’t as interested in sports. Many athletic directors and coaches say it’s tough to recruit Latino girls, in particular, because their parents would rather have them at home than playing a “boy’s sport.”
Nakamoto scoffed at the notion that girls aren’t interested in sports. “We never have problems recruiting,” she said. “We’ve had 15 to 20 schools on our waiting list in the last few years.”
But she does not dispute the difficulty of infusing a sports culture for girls and for soccer into low-income or Latino communities.
On a recent hot summer day, Nakamoto watched over a soccer practice at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights, one of four summer camp sites that DC Scores is running. Emily Castillo, 12, wearing a bright blue oversize T-shirt and neon yellow soccer cleats and sweating from a hard practice, wandered by with Nohemy Salomon, the other half of what she calls their soccer team’s “Dangerous Duo.”