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High school girls in Bozeman can compete in girls’ wrestling this fall as a sanctioned sport, which could help shrink the 12% gap between girls’ and boys’ participation on sports teams.

The Bozeman School Board voted 8-0 in an online meeting Monday night to add girls’ wrestling at Bozeman and Gallatin high schools as a sanctioned Montana High School Association sport.

Adding the sport will create more opportunities for female athletes, Mark Ator, activities director, told board trustees.

All the large, AA high schools in Montana are adding the sport, Ator said, adding that he expects five to 10 girls will participate at each of Bozeman’s high schools. The wrestling coaches are excited about it and plan to start recruiting girls, he said. Knowing that girls will be in a separate division, where girls will wrestle other girls, should increase the numbers, he added.

Girl wrestlers will use the same coaches and travel together with the boys’ team, so there will be no additional cost, though there could be need for an additional coaching stipend in the future.

This past year one girl at Bozeman High wrestled against boys. Ator said the number of girls in youth wrestling is growing every year, and more colleges are adding the sport.

Bozeman still has a gap between boys and girls in athletics. Last year Bozeman High had 551 boys participating in sports compared to 436 girls, which meant male athletes outnumbered female athletes by 56% to 44%.

That was a 12% gap in participation, while the gender breakdown for the entire school was basically 50/50 (1,103 boys to 1,110 girls).

A major reason for the gap is football, which had 110 boys participating last year. Girls’ volleyball and softball had 57 and 26 athletes, or 83.

“We can only offer,” Superintendent Bob Connors said of sports opportunities. “We can’t force people to participate. … Hopefully, if we build it, they will come.”

The MHSA voted in January to make girls’ wrestling a new sanctioned sport, along with boys’ powerlifting.

In 1982 the MHSA was named in a federal lawsuit alleging numerous violations of Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in education. That lawsuit resulted in the Ridgeway settlement, which became the minimum standard for defining gender equity in Montana’s high school athletics. It calls for the number of athletic opportunities to be “substantially proportionate” to the numbers of girls and boys at a school, and surveying students if necessary to see if their interests are being met.

In other action Monday, the board:

--Voted unanimously to hire two new elementary principals. Caitlin Suit, chosen as the new principal of Hawthorne School, was interim principal of Heck-Quaw Elementary School in Belgrade. Laura Conwell, the new principal of Longfellow School, was principal of Broadwater Elementary in Helena for the past year, and is a former Bozeman elementary teacher and daughter of former Bozeman High Principal Kevin Conwell. They were chosen from more than 30 applicants.

--Voted 8-0 to extend first-year Superintendent Connors’ two-year contract by one more year to June 2022, with a 2.5% pay raise, equal to the raise awarded other top administrators. That will increase his pay to $169,125, slightly higher than the state average ($167,243) for large AA high schools. In addition Bozeman’s superintendent receives 13.5% additional compensation, in lieu of benefits. Trustees said Connors has done a good job handling this year’s unusual challenges, particularly with coronavirus.

--Voted to accept a $149,328 bid from Bozeman Green Build to install solar panels at two more elementary schools, Emily Dickinson and Morning Star. Money to pay for the panels will come from a Northwestern Energy grant of $70,000, building reserve funds and $3,000 raised by students in the Bozeman High School Solar Club.

--Approved a $167,500 bid from Ingram Clevenger Inc. to make repairs at Irving and Whittier schools, and a $97,500 bid from AV Construction to improve the front entrance of Willson School with new concrete stairs and handicapped accessible hand railings.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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