Mar 29, 2021 - News

Des Moines schools joining new athletic conference aimed at equity

Students running track

East High School hosted a boys track meet on March 27th on their new track and field. Photo courtesy of DMPS

Des Moines schools announced Monday it's leaving its current athletic conference to compete against other districts that more closely reflect its own racial and income demographics.

  • Why it matters: Low-income student athletes face hurdles like prohibitive costs, lack of transportation, coaching access and training time. But these factors aren't taken into account when seeding schools.

At least four other districts are joining DMPS in the new conference: Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Mason City and Ottumwa.

The backdrop: Local schools have historically competed in the Central Iowa Metropolitan League, which includes richer suburban school districts with larger athletics programs. That can lead to an unequal playing field for students from less wealthy districts like Des Moines.

  • High-income households report spending far more money for a child in sports compared to middle and lower-income households, and kids from wealthier families try more sports, according to The Aspen Institute.
  • In 2019, 69% of DMPS students were eligible for free or reduced lunch — a significantly higher rate than 37% in West Des Moines or 16% in Ankeny.

The new conference will still be competitive, but it may see greater student participation, said Phil Roeder, spokesperson for DMPS.

  • "Students are no different than the rest of us," Roeder said. "It's no fun to lose and it's no fun to not even have a chance."

The big picture: By competing in a more equitable conference, teams may have a better chance of ranking higher post-season and advancing to state competitions, Roeder said.

What's next: The new conference, name TBD, won't launch until the 2022-23 school year, giving more districts the chance to join.

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