Last summer, I was approached by a Lyon County assistant coach and asked if I'd like to help the boys high school basketball team with strength and conditioning. I have dedicated a large portion of my adult years to furthering my knowledge of health and fitness; I have a passion for basketball; and I've recently felt the call to give back to my community. So when this opportunity presented itself, it seemed like the perfect fit. I was excited to accept and anxious to meet the team.
For almost three months before the season, I was present at every open gym practice, training alongside these young men, striving to challenge them and challenging myself in the process. It became something I really looked forward to and took very seriously. As the training relationship developed, connections were established.
Having made my share of mistakes in the past that I've struggled to overcome, I hoped that I could not only help these boys to realize their athletic potential, but also encourage them to avoid those same mistakes off the court. And for those who do stumble, I hoped to be a reminder that they can pick themselves back up and press on.
Then I received a phone call that would bring an abrupt halt to what had, up to this point, been a very rewarding experience. The coach told me they had received a complaint that the boys' team had more coaching staff and volunteers than the girls' team and cited a breach of Kentucky High School Athletics Association (KHSAA) Title IX Law. He informed me that I would no longer be able to assist the team. Of course, I was heartbroken, and quite honestly, dumbfounded.
For those who are unfamiliar, KHSAA Title IX refers to a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, such as athletic programs. It states that equivalent opportunities shall be provided with specific regard to 12 major areas of benefits. One of these benefits is support services, which is the category under which volunteers fall.
Wanting to know more about this law being used to prevent me from volunteering my time and energy to support and encourage the youth in my community, I obtained a copy of KHSAA Title IX and started asking questions. Based on my understanding of what I read and how knowledgeable individuals explained it to me, the law exists to ensure equal access to benefits and opportunities for both sexes. Both girls' and boys' teams must be allotted the same amount of funding, as well as other benefits and assistance, such as additional training opportunities. Of course, that's only fair.
When I was first asked to come on board, it was suggested that I split my time between the girls' and boys' teams to keep coaching staff even. However, the coaching staff of the girls' team declined my assistance. The girls' coaching staff was also informed that they were welcome to bring in a volunteer of their own. Again, they weren't interested in adding anyone.
It seemed to me that it wasn't a matter of anyone being denied equal benefits or opportunities as long as the offer was made. Being reluctant to just walk away, I went to the superintendent in a last-ditch effort to see if anything could be done. I was informed that, "While it isn't a law for schools to have coaching staff even, that it is good advisable practice."
As far as I can tell, this is not a stance upheld by KHSAA Title IX. I was further informed "the district itself can set that standard with no problem, which is what has been done."
The reality is, these boys will play the game just fine without me. I'm not delusional enough to believe that my influence alone is going to turn them into NBA superstars. But in a world where we are suffering from disconnect due to more time spent on social media and less time interacting face to face … where older and younger generations are out of touch with one another … where communities have lost their sense of "community"… and so many of our youth are starving for our attention, does it make sense to turn away someone who wants to offer up his time for no other reason than to give back and make his little corner of the world a better place? Do we want our kids to feel like no one wants to spend time with them unless they're getting paid to do so? Do we want to discourage community participation? Is this what those who battled tirelessly for equality truly intended?
Bottom line, I love my community. That's one of many reasons why I've spent all 32 years of my life here, helping grow my family business and starting one of my own. Giving back is one thing my family has always emphasized. They've also taught me to never give up. There will be people out there who will never like you, never appreciate you and never respect you no matter how much positive you do. But the approval of others is not our motivation anyway, and in this situation, my heart was in the right place.
I appreciate these guys giving me a chance to connect with them and potentially help them in their futures. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than basketball. I hope that one day we'll see change within the school system that encourages the involvement of motivated people and supports and benefits the kids of our community.
(Kartik Patel is a resident of Eddyville and local business owner. He is a member of the Lake Barkley Tourist Commission Board of Directors as well as other community interests.)