Atlantic County Institute of Technology high school girls basketball coach Jackie Siscone called it disheartening.
Absegami basketball standout Haleigh Schafer said she was shocked.
What the two were referring to were videos and photos posted on social media over the weekend of the disparities in facilities for teams at the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments.
In a Twitter post, Stanford University sports performance coach for women’s basketball Ali Kershner posted a photo of a single stack of weights next to a training table with sanitized yoga mats, comparing it to pictures of massive facilities for the men with stacks and stacks of free weights, dumbbells and squat racks.
“I was shocked,” said Schafer, who scored 1,305 career points at Absegami and will continue her basketball career at D’Youville College, an NCAA Division II school in Buffalo, New York. “Just recently there’s been a lot about equality and women’s pay compared to men’s pay. I was really surprised the NCAA did that. Just the fact that they gave them 12 dumbbells and yoga mats. It just sends a message that girls can’t be strong like guys.”
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The NCAA improved the women’s weight-training facilities after images went viral on social media.
The NCAA also faced criticism about disparity in food options and the type of COVID-19 testing being done for men and women's teams as well as the difference in gift or “swag bags” given to both.
The NCAA had run 8,015 tests through Saturday with only one confirmed positive at the women’s tournament using daily antigen testing. The men are using daily PCR tests, considered more accurate. A few false positives at the women’s tournament have been quickly retested using the PCR test.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer issued a statement Saturday night upset by “evidence of blatant sexism” that is “purposeful and hurtful,” leaving her program feeling betrayed by the NCAA.
The Rutgers University women’s basketball is preparing to dance for the second time in three years.
“Women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life,” according to the statement. “Seeing men’s health valued at a higher level than that of women, as evidenced by different testing protocols at both tournaments, is disheartening.”
Atlantic City sophomore Sasha Lemons said the reports and pictures from the women’s tournament in Texas made her want to take action.
“Women in sports should speak out about the topic,” said Lemons, 16. “It’s been this way for years even in the work society. Women are starting to shine more, and I think we should get our shine for that. This just makes me want to go 10 times harder.”
“It’s disheartening to see,” Siscone said, “especially since I think women’s basketball has come a long way. But I’ve seen hotel fitness centers with more equipment and amenities than what they were offering in the bubble for the women. It just goes to show that we still have this long way to go.”
Siscone, who has also coached at Hammonton and Holy Spirit high schools, has an illustrious playing background. She scored 1,222 points in her career at Hammonton, graduating in 1997. She played two years for NCAA Division I Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and two seasons at Trinity College, a Division III school in Hartford, Connecticut.
The WNBA started in 1997 when Siscone was a Hammonton senior, and she attended a WNBA game that year.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, women are finally coming to the forefront. This is going to give girls aspirations to play at a higher level.’ For all the role models that young girls have today, there’s still that piece that’s missing.”
The disparity between the men’s and women’s tournaments also comes at a time when the depth of talent in women’s basketball seems to be at an all-time high.
Schafer spent Sunday and Monday watching plenty of NCAA women’s games on television. There were several upsets, which hasn’t always been the case with the women’s games.
“For a period of time, it was like (the University of Connecticut) was the best team and no one could beat them,” Schafer said. “But now, other teams are stepping up. Talent is spreading all over the country. Girls are working just as hard as guys.”
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Schafer said the current women players did a great job of highlighting the disparities.
“I’m happy to be a part of the college basketball culture now,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
What made the pictures and videos from the women’s tournament in Texas so stunning was that many women athletes felt they had moved beyond having to fight for basic equality. This weekend was a reminder that their struggle continues.
“This should open a lot of eyes,” Siscone said. “You assume Division I that they’re getting the best of the best.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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