It has been almost 30 years since Deerfield became coeducational; however, the road to gender equality in sports has been a long one. Although there have been concerns over the years, Deerfield has made incredible progress towards an equitable program.
When girls first attended Deerfield in 1989, their immediate success in sports gained them respect in the community. For example, the field hockey team had the cheer “5-4-3-2-1, coeducation has begun. We’re here to stay. We’ll show you the way! Let’s go green!”
This was representative of the energy they brought to the fields. According to English Teacher and former varsity field hockey coach Karinne Heise in a 2014 Scroll article “Reminiscing About Our Coeducational Heritage,” when the girls won their first game in penalty strokes, “the crowd erupted and ran onto the field … a real moment of embracing the girls as an integral part of Deerfield in its new days of glory.”
This compares favorably to the moment when the girls varsity squash team won the New England Championship last year on their home court, which English Teacher Mark Scandling described as “electric,” or this past fall when students rushed the girls varsity soccer field when the whistle blew after an exhilarating win against Choate. Moments like this give the school what Mr. Scandling, who taught through the transition to coeducation, calls “a source of pride” in female success: “If there’s anything that’s gone away, it’s the idea that girl’s aren’t really athletes.”
While accomplishments are the shining moments that Deerfield has been working towards, behind the scenes, it has not been as smooth.
In recent years, there have been complaints of discrepancies between genders in facilities, transportation, and other logistical aspects of the sports program. Mr. Scandling noted that before the basketball gyms were completely renovated, girls would practice in the older gym, and “for a while there was even more practice time for the boys.”
Caroline Savage, the head coach of girls varsity swimming, said, “When I first started [at Deerfield], the boys were meeting upstairs in the lounge room that’s now an office and the girls met in the pool office that didn’t have any furniture.”
Other topics of recent discussion have been the quality of the boys baseball field in comparison to the girls softball field and claims by students that boys teams get coach buses more often than girls.
Nonetheless, if there is someone working to solve this pressing issue, it is Athletic Director Robert Howe.
Having made an immediate impact after two years as Athletic Director, he said, “Being the father of four girls, I have an eye out for this kind of stuff.”
He addressed the softball field, stating, “For years, we’ve been okay with baseball on one side, softball on the other. There are only a handful of people that see that. We now have a field for girls softball, and they like the place they’re playing at. We’re going to put in a scoreboard this summer — we can finally have a field we can be proud of. Because of this, we’re probably going to see better softball players now.”
He also commented on the bus discrepancy, stating, “With boys teams, there sometimes are more numbers on the team. A boys lacrosse team usually has around 40 kids, while girls only have around 24. So the boys usually got coach buses. What we needed was a policy change. Now, any varsity or junior varsity team that’s travelling over 1 hour and 40 minutes gets a coach bus. That was a pretty easy thing to fix.”
The school has also addressed other problems that have come up in recent years.
Speaking about the discrepancy between the meeting rooms for the varsity swimming teams, Mrs. Savage explained that after receiving a budget to fix the girls’ room, “not only do the girls have furniture to sit on, it’s become a coed space that both teams can use, which is even better.”
She continued, “Both water polo teams use it as well. It’s become this great shared space that is both very useful and very comfortable for everyone. It’s made it feel like more of a cohesive program.”
Both girls lacrosse and tennis have positive news to report. Varsity girls lacrosse coach Amie Creagh said, “We all have felt completely supported.”
Four-year varsity girls tennis player Lisa Chen ’18 said, “I would say the girls and boys teams are very equal. We get the same budget for uniforms and transportation, as well as the same amount of court space. We are definitely equally supported throughout the tennis program.”
Despite this development, many wonder to what extent girls and boys’ sports at Deerfield can truly be equal. Mr. Scandling commented, “High-profile sports are still male because that’s the way of the culture in America.” For example, the boys varsity football game always closes Choate Day.
Mrs. Savage said, “Because Deerfield was all-boys for the majority of its time, boys sports have a longer history and more entrenched traditions. Many continue to feel like boys’ sports are valued more than girls’ at Deerfield, but we’re working hard to change that perception.“