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Marching Band and the Issue of Co-ed Sports

April 11, 2011

During last weeks discussion, my section spent a great deal of time on the idea of separation of gender in athletic teams. Since I both wanted to discuss affirmative action and am not much of a sports person, I did not contribute much to the discussion. Just as the class was ending, however, I suddenly realized that I had a perfect example to present: marching band. While the discussion had focused on “conventional” sports (i.e. the sports such as track, basketball, football, etc.), which typically have separate men’s and women’s teams, I had completely overlooked my own personal sport of choice during high school which had no such barriers. As I did not realize the relevance of my experience earlier, I will fully account for it now.

As a typical highschool marching band, the organization was co-ed by principle, for every other competing marching band in the state of Michigan also permits men and women to participate. Now, one of most common arguments I have heard in discussion which supports separate sports for men and women goes something like this: Women and men have different athletic abilities. Even though it is not as severe as (Mill?) has previously suggested, it would still be unfair to place the two genders in equal competition. I, however, feel that proponents of the above position are only looking at sports from a narrow perspective. These supporters are only considering what I previously considered the “conventional” sports, where emphasis is placed on brute physical strength. There are, however, other ways of viewing athletics. In marching band, the primary focus is on endurance, both mental and physical. Relative to the conventional sports, band is relatively constrained in physical exertion. During practice, a band member must remain absolutely still, and cannot move until the director is ready to continue practicing the next section. During each run, a person must march in coordination with all of the other band members regardless of the step size and speed both of which, in high amounts, can lead to a great deal of discomfort and exhaustion. At the same time, you must do your best to play accurately while not messing up your marching style. As a member of the drumline, I can personally attest to the abilities of women in this sport. Numerous female members of the band have achieved relative excellence during the marching season, and the band directors are just as ready to complement a woman for her marching abilities as a man. Additionally, some of the best members of the drumline have been female. During the four years I was in drumline, there was always at least one woman in my section. In fact, during my freshman and sophomore year, two of the three tenor players – by far the most cumbersome and difficult drumline instrument – were female, and one of them was section leader my junior year! Without a doubt, some of the best members of the marching band were female.

Now, I do not intend to refute or even address the arguments made for conventional sports; this was neither my objective nor even relevant. All I wanted to demonstrate was that not all competitive sports have a separate men’s and women’s team. I have demonstrated that there is a way to have both genders engage in meaningful athletic competition, and I am sure there are numerous other examples. If anyone has another example of a competitively co-ed sport, please post a brief statement about it in the comments section.

An egocentric look back at my freshman year in marching band. This is by far my favorite performance in all of high school: the Jenison performance of “American in Paris”, by George Gershwin. The two female tenors (tenors = quads) I previously mentioned are on either side of the center tenor player (I’m the incredibly short snare player). Follow them and observe their marching/playing style, if you wish.

  1. Peter Chutcharavan permalink
    April 11, 2011 2:43 AM

    Oh and yes, I know that drum corps is an all-male form of marching band.

  2. Jake Winn permalink
    April 11, 2011 3:21 PM

    I think this post does a great job of representing certain ideals of Mill. One of Mills main beliefs is that if a woman can do something just as well as a man and can compete with a man within the same arena, she is just as good as the man (page 679). I believe that in you marching band example you do a good job showing the equality in competition. This does not happen in all sports but clearly they are certain sports arenas in which woman and men can equally compete. One sport which I would consider is skiing. As a skier I many times notice female skiers who are better than male skiers. Mill might consider this equal competition and therefore say if a woman can compete in the same sport she is just as equal as the man. I think this issue must also be looked at from another perspective. Not to say that woman and men are unequal but in most sports they play with different style. Men seem to use more physical force and therefore many times it seems that based on playing style it would be hard for men and woman to compete in the same sport. I mean the bottom line is that the number one pick in the NBA draft is going to beat the number one pick in the WNAB draft in a game of one on one. Many men can dunk while most woman can’t. In a sport such as basketball I feel that competition and integrity of the game require the sport to separate men and woman. For certain sports I would say the opposite but in the case of basketball I feel Mill would realize many woman can’t compete with men and therefore should be playing in a different league. I would ask you to consider further how Mill may view the division in conventional sports.

    • Layne Simescu permalink
      April 11, 2011 4:06 PM

      Although both men and women compete in skiing, they are separated in competition. I was a downhill ski racer in high school. While the whole ski team is composed of both men and women, they compete separately as the “men’s team” and the “women’s team” of that school. Different courses are set for men and women, and the average speed of male skiers is quite a bit faster than female skiers. There may be some female skiers that are better than male skiers, but that can be said for any sport. I think a better example of a sport where men and women compete equally is cheerleading. They are on the same team, and have to go through the same tryout system. The male team and female team are not separate, but compete and perform together as one. The female athletes are mostly the center of attention, while the male part is to be the base strength and supportive part of the team. I think Mill would consider this equal competition because the male athlete and female athlete are performing in the same arena on the same team. Even though they play a little bit different roles on the team, they are overall working together to form the squad. I actually think that this sport may be considered one where the females are the prominent athletes, which doesn’t happen very often in sports

  3. Robert Tepper permalink
    April 11, 2011 4:10 PM

    I believe this post does a great job at proving that in certain settings and situations women are in every way equal to men. Strength, size, and speed are all extremely important factors in conventional sports. Therefore, those sports are not co-ed due to differing ability and, also very important, safety. It is always great to see both men and women competing side by side successfully, and marching band is a great example. Although there are many sports in which women are just as good as men, I want to turn attention to one specific case in which a woman succeeded in a conventional, separate sport. Below is a link to an article about a female kicker who appeared in an NCAA football game. Enjoy.

    • Peter Chutcharavan permalink
      April 17, 2011 11:52 PM

      Wow, that was an interesting article. I didn’t even know that women could (legally) play as part of a college football team. Thanks for bringing that to my attention!!!

  4. Shane Malone permalink
    April 11, 2011 4:25 PM

    I think that your post is great! I was in marching band all throughout my high school career. Who was good at instruments was very much spread evenly through both genders. To build of of something Layne said, another predominate female athlete sport is figure skating. While I realize that men do compete in the sport, I feel that the women in the sport get much more attention that the men that play the sport. Much like Jake said above, I think that a post about men and women in a conventional sport would be very interesting as well.

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