Students of Color Demand Access to Sports in Schools
Athletes from public schools lacking sports programs raised their voices at a monthly City Council hearing on education. That day, the representatives of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) were absent from the hearing, citing unforeseeable circumstances.
“We were scheduled to have a presentation by the PSAL, but one of the people who were supposed to give it could not make it, so we are going to have to reschedule for next month,” said Vanessa Leung, chair of the Panel for Educational Policy of the NYC Department of Education (DOE).
That did not stop a dozen student activists representing the NYC Let ‘Em Play advocacy group, who testified at the public hearing presided by NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
“I have seen the widespread injustice within our school system. And, in spite of that, many of my friends are productive in their lives because they did not stop practicing sports while in school,” said Héctor Bello, a Lehman College student who graduated from the Bronx’s International Community High School last year. The high school is spearheading the movement.
“Sports kept them away from the streets, from crime and from being a burden to society. They have taken sports away from us. That is unfair. We deserve the same rights as everyone else. We want the rights they have denied our poor and marginalized communities.”
After the testimonies, Chancellor Fariña said that she will send representatives within a week to carefully listen to the student activists’ concerns, but added that the conditions in some schools make it difficult to practice physical activities.
In a story published on April 16, Martínez Contreras reported on one of the NYC Let ‘Em Play protests in front of City Hall demanding that all small schools have sports teams again to compete against each other, as they did for four years as part of the Small Schools Athletic League (SSAL), before the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) absorbed it this past winter.
“They took away our soccer and baseball teams ‒ the most popular sports here ‒ and gave us a ping pong team nobody likes,” said Abdel Bassite Baba, a student and athlete at International Community High School (ICHS). “We feel segregated and unequal.”
“There are 17,000 minority students in the city who attend a school without any kind of sports instruction,” said Baba. “They are denying a right to us and to the other students who will come after us. And we are pushing back because they want to restrain us.”
The students conducted research that shows that, while only 4 percent of all regular schools get less than the minimum funding for athletic activities, 41 percent of the over 100 small schools do not have enough money to spend on sports.
The problem is not new. David García-Rosen, former director of ICHS, created a soccer team in the school after the PSAL denied his application to create baseball and cricket teams. The PSAL said that the school lacked infrastructure to house sporting activities.
The rejection did not deter García-Rosen. In 2011, he created the SSAL, which consisted of an initial eight teams. By 2014, it consisted of 90 teams from 42 schools. Funding for all their activities came from the pockets of the school directors.
“It was not a sustainable situation,” said María Damato, who worked as counselor and art teacher at the school located in the South Bronx until last March 26. “Sports changed our students in a big way. School spirit was created. The number of fights decreased, and tension among different groups of students was reduced.”
The absence of their favorite sports has greatly lowered the morale among the students, said Juan Hernández, who last year belonged to the baseball team.
“We used to have motivation to go to school and get good grades,” said Hernández. “Now, many of the guys I used to play with don’t go in the classrooms, they drink in the bathrooms and don’t care about school because they don’t have anything to motivate them to continue.”
García-Rosen and Damato said that they lost their jobs on March 26 after a group of students disrupted a hearing where Chancellor Fariña was scheduled to testify on the budget presented by Mayor de Blasio for her department.
“Basically, they put me in an office where I don’t have anything to do except help these kids organize,” said Rosen-García. Last year, he filed a complaint at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights accusing the city’s DOE of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the way it funds sporting activities in high schools.
Finally, a story published on April 22 reported about the lack of sports access for female students.
Two years ago, Hassanatou Samake landed in New York in search of an education and opportunities to practice sports, thinking that they would be better than those her native Mali ‒ located in the west of Africa ‒ offered her.
“In my country, we practiced sports without problems. Here, we have the chance of a free education, but we don’t get the right to practice the sport we want. Sports are also part of our education,” said Samake. “I am now on my own looking for where to exercise and stay in shape because the school I attend in the U.S. does not offer that.”
The words of this ICHS student reflect the findings of a report by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), that names New York as the state with the highest level of inequality.
“When we had teams in school, we could not have girls teams because there wasn’t enough money for our league. So they told us that we had to play with the boys. Although we didn’t want to, we accepted because we loved the sport and we wanted to play,” said Samake. She has joined the small schools’ fight to have their own teams.
According to NWLC, 40 percent of schools with a minority population in the state show a large gap in the access to sports offered to students. Only 5 percent of schools where most students are white show this disparity.
“These girls face a double disadvantage. We know that they live in communities that already receive fewer resources for other services. What they get, if anything, has already been diluted by all the previous filters,” said Neena Chaudhry, the attorney in charge of NWLC’s Equity in Athletics.
The city’s DOE dissociated itself from the controversy by saying that the report refers to the state and not the city of New York.
“We have been and continue to be committed to making sure that all our students have access to our excellent sports programs,” said a DOE spokesperson via email.
The communication added that the number of girls sport teams has increased 39 percent since 2009, when 17,582 of them existed. According to the DOE, there are 24,412 of such teams in 2015. The email also said that the DOE allocated more than $1 million to PSAL to create 24 new girls teams in the next four fiscal years to reach 96 by 2019.
Still, according to Council member Andy King, who represents the Bronx, the report only lets everyone know of the difficulties that minority communities have always faced.
“This report tells us something that we people of color already knew. They discriminate against us ‒ especially our women ‒ since our childhood,” said King. “I know what sports did for me when I was in school. I don’t even want to imagine the amount of young talent we have lost in our communities because we don’t have the funds or the services that white students have.”
Voices of NY