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Parent claims discrimination against girls

John Geluardi Daily Planet
Tuesday October 10, 2000

A letter written by a parent in the Mersey Soccer Club is kicking up controversy in the Alameda Contra Costa Youth Soccer League. 

Parent Chuck Smith distributed 250 letters to other parents at League soccer games two weeks ago accusing the ACCYSL of unfair treatment of girls because it offers boys more opportunity to play intermediate soccer. The League President said the accusations are false and she is uncertain why Smith and other members of the Mersey Soccer Club are raising a fuss.  

The ACCYSL is a complex organization that oversees 2,400 kids in five soccer clubs, Berkeley-Albany, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Richmond and Mersey. Mersey is the only club that pays its coaches and has no specific geographical area although it draws most of its players from the Berkeley and Albany and charges the highest membership fee of all the clubs at $240 per player per season. Other clubs charge an average of $130 per player. 

The league, which fields an average of 50 teams each weekend during soccer season, is run almost entirely by volunteers, mostly parents, who do everything from coaching to organizing uniforms and chalking out fields.  

Within the league there are three levels of soccer teams for most age groups, class four or beginning teams, Class 3, which is the intermediate or developing level and Class 1 teams which are comprised of the best players in the league. 

Currently both boys and girls class one teams are organized by the Maverick division, which draws players from the entire  


geographic area of the league. The Mavericks also manage the class three girls teams - the class in question - while class three boys teams are managed by the clubs. 

Smith said girls in the Mersey Club are discouraged from playing class three soccer because in order to do so they have to leave their friends and play with girls they don’t know at fields they are not familiar with. Smith added that class three boys, which are managed at the club level, continue to play with their friends at their home fields. 

“This policy is discriminatory and its bad for girls and bad for soccer,” Smith said. 

League president, Lori-Ann Wagner, a chiropractor and long-time girls soccer coach, said she has never heard any complaints from players, parents or coaches that girls were not trying out for class three soccer because of travel time to practices. 

McGregor Bullard, who coaches a class three girls team and has two daughters who play soccer in the League, said his team practices in Albany and that none of his players have to drive more than 10 minutes to practice. 

Smith said that the League’s 15-member board of directors are made up of parents who have a tendency to be more competitive than the majority of parents and that they don’t want to turn management over to the clubs because it will mean the existing class three teams would be weakened and they would win fewer games. 

“I give these people credit because they do most of the work in the league but they are almost exclusively focused on winning,” Smith said. 

Bullard said he agrees that winning isn’t everything and that development is important but there simply are not enough girls in each club to form competitive class three teams. “It simply doesn’t develop players by sending them out to get slaughtered every weekend,” he said. 

Wagner said the numbers just are not there to allow the clubs to manage class three girls teams and still maintain a minimum level of competitive play. 

Wagner said the Mersey Soccer Club would especially suffer. Mersey has a total of only 66 girls in the class four level. This is equal to only four teams and Wagner said it would be impossible to form a quality class three girl’s team in any age group from such a small pool. 

“Where would they get additional girls from, lure them from other teams?” Wagner said and added that girls from the lower income neighborhoods in the League like Richmond might not be able to play with Mersey because of the high cost of team membership. 

Smith said that this is a ‘chicken or egg’ argument and that if girls could play with their friends at a familiar field more girls would participate in soccer overall. 

Wagner said the leagues’ girls soccer program is growing rapidly and each year it gets stronger. To turn the burgeoning program over to the club level would weaken it and be devastating for girl’s soccer throughout the league. 

“It seems like this is more about marketing the Mersey program than it’s about the girl’s,” Wagner said.  

One parent, who asked not to be identified, said that the owner of a small soccer supply store and summer soccer camp is the registered coach for all of the Mersey Soccer Club teams. The caller suggested that if Mersey managed girls class three soccer the coach would stand to benefit financially through his camp and supply store. 

Smith said that it’s true that the store owners is the registered coach on many of the teams but it’s only because coaches change every year and he puts his name down to hold spot until other coaches are hired and have confirmed their employment. “It’s no secret but it bothers a lot of people even though it doesn’t mean anything.” 

Smith said that he wrote the letter to see if there was any support among parents for allowing the individual clubs to manage girls class three soccer teams and he said he’s not sure what the next step is if any. 

“I’m encouraged by the support I’ve gotten from parents but I don’t know where it’s all going.”