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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Chelan tennis coach files Title IX complaint against WIAA over state tournament discrepancies between boys’ and girls’ brackets

By Rand Stevens, The Wenatchee World
Published: May 13, 2024, 7:41am

RENTON — In early April, Chelan High School head tennis coach Marty Rothlisberger filed a Title IX complaint against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

The complaint concerned the 1A state tennis championships’ discrepancies between the boys’ and girls’ brackets. It has less to do with the 16 entries allotted for the boys versus the 12 entries for the girls — this accounts for the number of participating schools — and more to do with the double versus single-elimination format of the boys and girls brackets in the first round of the tournament.

This format disproportionally limits the opportunities for girls’ tennis players (as compared to boys) to compete through a consolation bracket after an initial loss. Of the boys’ 16 seeds, all benefit from the double-elimination format in the first round. For the girls’ 12 entries, the top four seeds earn a first-round bye (essentially double elimination benefits) while the lower eight seeds face single elimination in the first round.

This means four singles players and four doubles teams from the girls’ bracket are sent home after one match while the boys are guaranteed at least two matches — effectively creating a gender equality issue.

Submitting a formal complaint was the culmination of two years of failed inquiries and prodding through proper WIAA channels and chains of command that involved athletic directors and a Lake Chelan school district superintendent.

Last September, with the support of several individuals, Chelan High School submitted a formal proposal to the WIAA executive board, something that detailed a 12-entry, double-elimination format for the coming year — a simple fix to an unnecessary imbalance — but their proposal was rejected.

In a shared email exchange with members of the WIAA, the decision to maintain the current format of the 1A girls’ state tennis bracket was characterized as their adherence to a 12- and 20-entry tournament policy but failed to explain why it met their own equitable standards.

On the WIAA website, as part of their vision and stated under “Association Purpose & Goals” they assert that they shall “(d)esign all activities to provide for fair and equal opportunities for all participants.”

Rothlisberger doesn’t want to suggest that the discrepancy was intentional but possibly an unfortunate byproduct of oversimplification.

Aside from the bracket format, there’s also a disproportionate amount of state placers between the boys and girls. Boys place eight of 16 entries at state while the girls place only four of 12.

A senior equal opportunities specialist with the Seattle OCR determined on Thursday that Rothlisberger’s evidence was enough to open an investigation under their Rapid Resolution Process (RRP).

Rothlisberger hopes this effort will lead to a positive and balanced change within the next week as the state bracket is scheduled to be finalized next Sunday. The 1A state tournament takes place March 24-25 at the Yakima Tennis Club. As of this Sunday, the brackets still retain their original format.