Updated: 10:00 p.m. | Posted: 6:22 p.m.
A federal judge ruled Thursday that St. Cloud State University must take immediate steps to bring gender equity to its athletic programs.
Ten female athletes sued St. Cloud State alleging that the school is out of compliance with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in programs that receive federal funds.
In early 2016, St. Cloud State eliminated six men’s and women’s athletic programs including tennis, women's Nordic skiing, and men's cross country.
Less than two months later, several tennis players filed suit; a group of skiers would soon join them. The women claimed that the school has continually under-resourced women’s sports. They won an injunction early on that kept the women’s tennis and skiing programs intact.
Jill Kedrowski plays tennis and basketball at St. Cloud State. She was a freshman when the lawsuit started and is the only plaintiff who’s still a student there. Kedrowski says they never sought financial damages.
“Money was never on the table and never a question. It was all for women having the opportunity to play.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Don Mark said the lawsuit outlined some glaring examples of women’s sports getting short shrift. He said the men’s baseball team plays at a municipal athletic complex off campus that the city of St. Cloud maintains.
But the university facility where the women’s softball team plays is run down, and not for a lack of effort by the players.
“The women’s softball coach is dragging the field before the games, is dragging the field after the games. The players are having to work on the field. They’re having to water the field. So the facilities are unequal,” Mark said.
Once, Coach Paula U’Ren -- who recently celebrated her 700th win with the Huskies -- was told to water the field with a fire hose. This required the help of the entire team, something she found embarrassing and did not repeat. Court documents also say U’Ren pulls weeds in the infield before bringing recruits to see it.
The women’s Nordic ski team uses a handball court as its locker room.
In his ruling, Judge Tunheim said St. Cloud State must take immediate steps to provide its female students with equitable opportunities. And he said improving facilities, particularly the softball field and skiers’ team room, is a key part of creating that equity.
Alexie Portz, a former tennis player and the lead plaintiff, said she and her fellow athletes are pleased with Tunheim’s decision.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for the news. Everything in the law goes slowly, but we’re just really excited.”
Even though she graduated last year, Portz says she’s hopeful that the ruling will keep opportunities open for girls and women who’ve yet to enroll at St. Cloud State.
In a statement, the school said it's reviewing U.S. District Judge John Tunheim's decision, and remains committed to supporting women's athletics and gender equity.