Polk County Public Schools is considering adding four sports to its lineup of offerings at high schools in the coming years to stem a decline in girls sports participation and to ensure adherence to federal Title IX requirements.

PCPS athletic officials have said they are researching offering girls flag football, girls beach volleyball, boys and girls bowling, and boys volleyball for the 2023-2024 school year. In addition, officials are hoping to add competitive cheer this upcoming school year, but that will take winning an appeal to the Florida Department of Education. Several of those sports are played at colleges and the Olympics.

“With the rapid decline in female participation, especially in basketball, our gender equity numbers could possibly be a potential concern in the future,” district officials wrote in a presentation to the School Board in advance of the work session planned for June 14.

PCPS currently offers 25 of 31 sports approved by the Florida High School Athletic Association, including softball, golf, tennis, indoor volleyball, basketball and weightlifting.

Data provided by the school district shows a drop in the number of girls participating in sports statewide, dipping from nearly 14,000 in the 2016-2017 school year to about 10,500 in the 2020-2021 school year. COVID-19 most likely impacted more recent numbers.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 “prohibits sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” according to Federal Registrar documents. That includes ensuring boys and girls have an equal opportunity to play sports.

Data from Polk County Public Schools

Lakeland schools that expressed interest are:

  • George Jenkins – boys and girls bowling, girls beach volleyball, boys volleyball, and girls flag football
  • Kathleen – girls beach volleyball, boys volleyball, and girls flag football
  • Lake Gibson – girls beach volleyball, girls flag football
  • Lakeland – girls bowling, girls beach volleyball, girls flag football
  • Tenoroc – boys and girls bowling, girls beach volleyball, girls flag football

Coaching costs could run about $165,000 district-wide. In addition, costs per school include equipment, transportation, officials, facilities and uniforms:

  • Flag football – $4,772, including free uniforms from Nike
  • Beach volleyball – $1,700 including already available indoor volleyball uniforms
  • Bowling – $2,200 for both a girls and boys team
  • Boys volleyball – $5,000 including equipment already used by girls teams
Data from Polk County Public Schools

Revenue could offset some flag football costs. Reports from other school districts show ticket sales in the neighborhood of $6,500 per school.

School officials say adding the sports could increase scholarship opportunities for the athletes as well as increase female equity in sports. But it could also add wear and tear on fields, reduce participation in other sports, and bowling alleys might not be available.

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Kimberly C. Moore

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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