Why Do Girls Only Play 80-Minute Games?

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Inequality between NEPSAC soccer teams go against the core values of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council.

Girls high school soccer teams which are part the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) are allowed 80 minutes of field time during games, divided into two 40-minute halves, while boys’ soccer is allowed 90 minutes in two 45-minute halves. This contradicts the athletic council’s value of “equity” listed in their July 2020 statement on its website.

“As a core value, NEPSAC believes in and is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion among its member schools, student-athletes, coaches, and administrators,” the statement reads. However, the inequality of game time contradicts this message, and leaves girls at a disadvantage.

NEPSAC soccer is the only program in the area, that denies female soccer players the opportunity to play 45-minute halves. Public school rules allow both girls and boys teams to play 90-minute games.

Many female athletes in the NEPSAC community are striving to play soccer beyond their respective high schools and are left at a disadvantage when they are only playing for 80 minutes.

Both Williston soccer teams played 17 games in the 2021 season. When the game times of the 2021-22 Williston soccer season were calculated, it was discovered that the Williston boys’ soccer team played 2.8 more hours than the girls.

This statistic means that the boys team played almost two more games this season than the girl’s team due to them playing 90 minutes versus the girls 80 minutes.

Annika’s father, Todd Jensen, is disappointed with how this is still problem in the world.

“I feel it is a shame that in today’s world that there are blatant examples of treating girls and boys, women and men differently,” said Jensen, who is also a soccer coach.

Jensen finds it frustrating that NEPSAC require three officials for boy’s matches and only requires two for girls matches. This is another contradiction of the core values of NEPSAC soccer issued in July 2020 report on equity.

Jensen says that the effect on both female and male players is important because for the female players it can continue to perpetuate a belief that women are less important than their male counterparts. This can also be an unconscious message to the male players that they are better or more important than female counterparts.

In the end he finds it sad that the schools that make up NEPSAC have not recognized this inequality.

“They should be beacons on how to treat students of different genders, races and backgrounds,” he said. “While this inequity is specific to soccer it exists in other sports as well.”

Six years ago, Nicole Fernandes started a petition on change.org to demand equality in high school soccer.

“[We are] calling upon the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) to take action and correct the condition of gender inequality for the girls’ soccer teams of its member schools by providing them games with 45-minute halves, the time which boys’ soccer teams are provided,” it stated.

This petition had 17,500 supporters and almost 20,000 signatures; however, no action was taken to correct this gender inequality.

Fernandes mentioned that in a survey conducted by Always, 72 percent of girls between the ages of 16 and 24 revealed feeling limited by society because of their gender.

Annika Jensen ‘23 from Westfield, Mass., has played on the Williston varsity soccer team for 4 years. She is also working to pursue soccer in the future. She told The Willistonian that she also felt limited by this inequality.

“Personally, one of my best attributes is my stamina, so by playing shorter games I feel like I am unable to display one of my greatest skills as a soccer player,” she said.

Annika felt like this made her question what people around her think of her abilities and makes her wonder if people such as coaches, athletic department members, or even players on the boys’ soccer team think she is unable to handle a full 90-minute game.

“It makes me feel less supported and as if my ability to play the game is less respected,” she said.

In addition, she revealed she has lost confidence in talking about the game with others, especially with the boys’ soccer players on campus. This makes her feel like her hard work isn’t as impressive and she isn’t given the opportunity to prove that she can play 90 minutes too.

“Not having equal playing time enforces the stigma that boys’ athletics are more challenging and demanding,” she said. “Ideas like that being taught to young female athletes creates a negative mindset around athletics.”

Overall, Annika wishes to be given the same opportunities to improve her skill and be allowed to experience the same resources as boys’ soccer players do.

Mark Conroy, Williston Athletic Director, and past President of NEPSAC is in support of equity across all sports.

“For as long as I have been on the NEPSAC Executive Board this has always been one of our guiding principles,” Conroy said. “In this particular case, the opinion of those schools who field girls’ soccer teams is very important to this decision.  This question has come up but has not been supported by the girls soccer coaches association.”

The question of equal playing time has come numerous times over the years with equity being the driving force behind these discussions. Conroy expresses that there are a number of factors that come into play which impact a safe playing experience.

“There are a number of other factors that come into play that are considered including (and of equal importance) how a change impacts safe play.  It’s important to recognize the diversity of schools in NEPSAC when it comes to size, school populations, size of rosters, the age of rosters, etc,” he said.

Due to these variables mentioned above and the current concerns related to safe play, the girls’ soccer coach association has consistently been opposed to lengthening the 40-minute halves.

Conroy explained that the core values need to be honored but not at the expense of others.

“Equity is extremely important but not at the risk of safe play,” he said. “As important as equity is to decision making, maintaining a safe playing experience is also a primary consideration,”

Williston Varsity Soccer Coach Jennifer Fulcher as well as Lamar Reddicks, the NEPSAC Coordinator of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion were both asked for a comment but did not reply in time for print.