After sinking a basket, senior Micaela Bennett-Smith would have loved to hear a roar of enthusiasm from the Country Day supporters in the stands.
But all she heard were the taunts coming from the Victory Christian School fans behind her.
Even though the girls were in the playoffs on Feb. 20, the Country Day stands were almost empty – there were just a few parents and a couple of students.
“(And) one of the students was on Octagon and was only there to report on the game,” Bennett-Smith said.
“The other team had crowds of people with signs. I mean, we made it to the playoffs – but no one came!”
The game was at Victory Christian, just a 10-minute drive from school, and it was a Friday night. So why the low attendance?
According to Bennett-Smith, the sparse bleachers are common at girls’ basketball games.
While sexism in sports isn’t an original concept (WNBA, anyone?), Bennett-Smith attributes the lack of spectators to the timing of the games as well.
At Country Day (and almost every other school in the country), girls play before boys. For home games, the girls play closer to dinner time, at 6 p.m., while the boys usually start around 7:30.
“Pretty much every league that I know has the girls play first,” said athletic director Matt Vargo, who is also the coach of the girls’ team.
“Part of it is probably just that that’s the way it’s always been.”
At Occidental College, however, this isn’t the way it’s always been.
According to Micaela’s brother Morgan, ’13, now a sophomore at Occidental, the girls’ basketball team doesn’t always play before the boys’ team.
Instead it alternates – one year the girls get the coveted 7 p.m. slot, and the boys play at 5 p.m. The next year the schedule flip-flops.
This year, the boys have the later slot, which is much easier for students to attend.
“(Lots of) classes are definitely still happening at 5,” Morgan said. “And 5:30 is (a common) dinner time. The (cafeteria) actually stops making food at 7.
“(7 p.m.) is a perfect time to just finish class and dinner and go to watch a game.”
Bennett-Smith said she thinks the permanent girls-first schedule at Country Day also makes the team seem less important.
“It’s like the girls are always a warm-up for the boys,” she said.
And statistics seem to support her assessment.
A Feb. 3 Octagon poll revealed that 59 percent of the 110 students polled have attended a boys’ basketball game. But only 43 percent have been to a girls’ game.
And, according to Bennett-Smith, this number is probably inflated since some students may have said they attended a girls’ game even though they came for only the second half.
“No one comes to our games until maybe halftime to get a good seat for the boys’ game,” Bennett-Smith said.
Junior Julia Owaidat, who has been on the team since her freshman year, agrees that the games’ timing affects attendance.
“When I was a freshman, I thought (playing first) was good because a lot of people could come to the game and then go home and do homework,” Owaidat said. “But now I (realize that) lots of people would rather go home and do their stuff, then go to the game.”
Owaidat said she also thinks that many students don’t actually watch the games they attend.
“A lot of high schoolers go to the game but then just hang out outside,” she said. “But for me, as a player, if I don’t hear them screaming, then it doesn’t count.”
Bennett-Smith said she understands why more students are interested in attending the boys’ games this year – they’ve won their division for the first time ever. But she also remembers girls’ game attendance being a problem before this year.
Vargo, however, thinks the attendance does depend more on the number of wins rather than the scheduling of the games.
“I honestly think that the time isn’t the problem,” he said. “I think this was an exceptional year for our boys, and wins and losses definitely have an impact (on attendance).”
In fact, Vargo said he thinks having the girls’ and boys’ games back to back increases attendance at the girls’ games.
“People have come into the gym before the girls’ game ends (for the next game),” Vargo said. “Back to back, I think both teams benefit.”
Vargo pointed out that the girls had “a lot of fans” when Mary-Clare Bosco, ’13, was on the team. Bosco was named Most Valuable Player on the girls’ varsity and in the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League during her senior year.
“If teams are more successful, they’re going to get more fans,” Vargo said.
But Bennett-Smith remembers the attendance that year differently. “(Low attendance) has always (been a problem), even when the girls were better than the boys,” said Bennett-Smith, who has been on the team all four years of high school. “My sophomore year, we had great players, but I still remember we didn’t have anyone at our games.”
Vargo does admit that earlier game times can cause problems for working adults.
“Having games after parents get off of work does increase your fan base,” he said.
At Occidental, Morgan doesn’t think rotating times necessarily increases attendance at girls’ games. But he said that attendance at boys’ games is definitely lower when the boys play first.
Like Vargo, Morgan said he thinks that attendance often depends on the team’s skill.
“The girls don’t get nearly as many (spectators) as the boys,” Morgan said. “But (this year) the boys were good, and the girls were straight garbage.”
Nonetheless, Morgan said he does think that sports sexism and the timing of the games could affect attendance.
“I’m not sure whether people weren’t going to the girls’ games because (the team was) bad or because (the games) were at 5 or because it was girls’ basketball,” he said.
Morgan, who played basketball while at Country Day, remembers the game scheduling as being “slanted towards the boys.”
“Always having the boys at a later time isn’t really fair,” he said. “People really don’t want to sit through two games. They’re either going to go to one or the other.”
Morgan said the best solution would be to have the games scheduled like Occidental’s soccer games – girls play at home when boys play away and vice versa.
“The girls would be in the prime-time spot; then the boys would be in the prime-time spot,” he said.
Previously published in the print edition on March 17, 2015.