Maddy Horn had a great season as point guard for her Wilson High School girls' varsity basketball team, winning co-MVP. The senior says she and her teammates worked just as hard as the Wilson boys' team and love the game just as much.
"We all are so committed," she says.
But Maddy says Portland Public Schools hasn't shown that her team matters as much as the boys' team.
On the nights when the teams played at the same venue, home or away, the girls' team always played earlier in the day while the boys' team always got the headliner time slot.
"By always having us first, it seems like they're saying, 'We're saving the best for last,'" Maddy says.
Wilson parents, including Maddy's mother, couldn't help noticing, either.
"It teaches everyone at school that girls are the opening act and boys are the marquee," says Allison Horn, a shooting guard for Portland State University's women's basketball team from 1989 to '93.
The mission statement of Portland Public Schools' athletics department is clear: "To build community, character and academic excellence through equitable athletic programming."
But Horn and other parents say not only is PPS ignoring its own policies, it's violating Title IX, the federal law that has ensured equal access to sports for male and female students since 1972.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in public schools. Athletic programs for boys and girls don't have to be identical under the law, but they do have to be equal. That means girls and boys should have equal access to "prime-time" games.
The Oregon 2014-15 high school basketball season ended March 14 with the state championship tournament for both boys' and girls' teams. But a formal complaint filed by Horn is pending before the Portland School Board. PPS officials, including Superintendent Carole Smith, have denied doing anything wrong.
Horn and other parents spotted unfairness in the schedule from the start. On Fridays, for example, the schedule had the Wilson girls' junior varsity team playing at 3:45 pm, followed by the boys' junior varsity team at 5. The girls' varsity team would play at 6:30, and the boys' varsity team would play at 8.
That was true at Wilson and the eight other high schools in the district.
"It wasn't fair," says Kiana Gilzow, a wing for the Wilson girls' junior varsity team. The issue with the schedule isn't just about making sure that parents and fans can make it to tipoff, although that's important.
For Wilson students, earlier games often meant the junior varsity girls had to leave class an hour before school ended, cutting into their instructional time. The schedule didn't affect the boys' classroom time as much.
Title IX experts say Horn may have a case, especially given the bigger loss of class time for girls.
"That is clearly an issue," says Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel and director of equal opportunities in athletics at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. âIt raises a red flag, and itâs something they should look into.â
Horn objected to the schedule in December. So did Mike Nolan, coach of Wilson's varsity girls, and Suzanne Washington, coach of the Cleveland High School girls' varsity team.
"I said it was sexist and that the only way I was in favor of it was if we alternated weekly who went first and second," Washington tells WW in an email. "And I said it again at our last joint coaches meeting."
Marshall Haskins, the district's athletic director, didn't change the schedule, despite the objections. Haskins didn't respond to WW's interview request.
Horn, on behalf of six other Wilson parents, filed a formal complaint with PPS on Dec. 10.
Greg Wolleck, director of school programs, responded in a two-page memo Jan. 9. In it, Wolleck defended the system that always rewarded boys' teams with the later games, saying the league needed to be "consistent."
He argued "prime time" was anything after 6 pm—not just the last game of the evening—and that the district's actions didn't violate Title IX.
Wolleck added that scheduling girls' games earlier was intended to help boost attendance at their games.
"The girls benefit from the support of fans for their own games as well as the arrival of fans for the boys games," Wolleck wrote.
Horn doesn't buy it. "'We are violating your rights, but it's for your own good,'" is how she sums up PPS's position.
Horn appealed Wolleck's decision to Smith, the superintendent, on Jan. 22. In a Feb. 20 response, Smith said she agreed with staff that the district hadn't violated Title IX. Smith said she supported a 2015-16 schedule that would give girls' teams the chance to play twice in the final-game slot.
Smith also said she worried about the loss of instructional time for girls and said she would "direct the PPS athletics department to work with each high school to ensure that the bus schedules for the 2015-16 basketball season do not disproportionately require early dismissal for any team."
Horn still isn't satisfied. It's not the bus schedule that's the problem, she says. It's the game schedule. She wants the district to pick the solution that's been obvious from the start—alternating who plays first weekly.
The School Board has until March 29 to decide whether to hear Horn's appeal and possibly overturn Smith's decision.
Lily Brodrick, a senior, was the Wilson team co-captain and co-MVP with Maddy Horn. She says her team only wanted equal opportunity.
"They're saying the guys should have more importance," says Brodrick, who is also Wilson's Rose Festival Court princess. "That's what they're showing us. I'm not sure it's their intent. But if it's not, then they should change it."