Participation woes in women’s sports persist despite effort

By Robert Clinton, Opinion Editor

After the Comet softball team failed to field a team for the second year in a row due to a sustained lack of participation, the trend of dwindling involvement of area women in post-high school athletics leaves administrators and coaches searching for answers.

This season, the Bay Valley Conference softball schedule supports only three softball teams —Yuba, Los Medanos and Solano colleges are the only colleges in the nine-team BVC to meet minimum player requirements.

Surprisingly, Richmond, De Anza and Kennedy high schools, all within the target area of CCC, carried an average of 15 players on their 2017 softball rosters.

So why do so many women end their playing careers after high school?

“Some want to only focus on school and others don’t want to go to school at all, but want to work full time first,” Comet volleyball coach Christy Tianero said. “Others believe their skill set is not at a college level.”

Along with coaching at CCC, Tianero coaches with the volleyball team at Richmond High School.

The decrease in participation is not isolated to softball. The Comet women’s basketball team ended its 2016 and 2017 campaigns with only six players, nearly half of its season opening roster.

From the player’s perspective, former CCC women’s basketball player Daizah Pounds thinks players know if they plan to continue playing or not as high school ends.

“If a woman is not committed to playing by the time her high school career is over she will just stop. After (high school) graduation, it’s a step into the ‘real world,’ so if she doesn’t truly see herself moving forward with sports, it’s a wrap,” Pounds said.

After attending CCC, Pounds transferred to the University of Antelope Valley in Lancaster, California where she continued to play basketball and ran cross-country to remain in shape.

“In terms of what can be done to make women continue playing after high school, I would say just instilling it in their hearts and minds before high school is over,” she said.

“Coaches and administrators should also push female athletes harder toward junior colleges so they understand there is an opportunity of further education and a potential athletic scholarship if they do well.”

Comet softball coach Karolyn Gubbine, who played catcher for San Francisco State University in 2010, thinks once women make the decision to stop playing it’s harder for them to come back.

“I think for girls, once they make up their minds about not playing it is emotional for them to come back and play, because even though a part of them wants to, they think that it’s not OK for them to have fun. They have to be an ‘adult’ and do more productive things,” she said.

The coach also believes ego plays a large part in participation.

She says players want to “go big or go home” and do not play as much for the enjoyment of learning.

“They want to play Division I or II or they feel there is no point due to a huge lack of professional opportunities after college,” she said.

“Most of those girls probably think what’s the point in playing if I’m not that good and I’m not going anywhere with it. I’d be better off getting a job or focusing on academics.”

As BVC participation rates dwindle, California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) reports the state’s high school sports involvement rates continue to climb.

High school sports participation continues to increase in California and is at an all-time high for the fifth consecutive year, according to the 2017 CIF Sports Participation Survey.

Rates are up by 0.78 percent and since the previous survey in 2016, 785,357 student-athletes are competing in education-based athletic programs in California.

In total, 331,352 girls participated in high school sports in 2017.

CCC sophomore pitcher Nancy Bernal attended Richmond High School and was a member of both doomed Comet softball seasons.

She said most of the female players she knows stopped playing so they can support themselves financially in school and in life.

“Some of the girls on the softball team stopped playing because of work. I played because I liked the excitement and because I only volunteer and don’t have a job that demands all of my time,” Bernal said.

“At least I can say I played and enjoyed it. I wish more people would play sports after high school. But I understand why they couldn’t.”

The sentiment of playing for only health and enjoyment while sacrificing personal time is a hard deal for coaches to broker.

California’s high school sports participation remains on a steady incline, but women’s sports in the BVC continue to languish.

“I constantly have to convince girls that it is OK to have fun and be young and that it is possible to play, work and go to school,” Gubbine said.

“I have to remind them that it’s OK if they don’t play outside of their two years at the junior college level. The ones who buy in are the ones that enjoy playing and enjoy the experience — for the most part.”