When Emily Geldwert graduated from Mamaroneck High School in New York this week, the 33rd anniversary of Title IX, she took with her a personal appreciation for the law that guarantees gender equality in education.
Her father, Josef Geldwert, along with other parents of players on the girls' soccer team, had successfully sued Mamaroneck in early 2004, alleging violations of Title IX for offering girls soccer in the spring, thus depriving them of competing for the state championship, which is held in the fall. A federal judge agreed with the parents and ordered Mamaroneck to move girls' soccer to the fall -- a decision that was upheld on appeal.
That court victory was soon followed by one on the field when Emily scored the winning goal in Mamaroneck's upset victory in a state championship semifinal in October.
"It was like what you see in the movies," said Geldwert who also plays for an elite club team. "There was more emotion in that game than when I played the No. 1 team in the country with my club team. It's something that will stick with me for a very long time.
The Mamaroneck case illustrates the concerns of some who fear high school and age level girls' sports are the most vulnerable to the new Title IX clarification issued in March by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
The federal agency memo advises schools that they can use online surveys to determine student interest in certain sports, and use the findings to justify funding decisions. OCR says it is simply clarifying the law's requirements for schools, but critics say inevitable result is a shortchanging of women's sports, clearly against the intent of Title IX.
"It's a disservice to college athletes for sure, but I think it is particularly damaging for high school students, says Jocelyn Samuels, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center. "The whole point of education at the high school level is to expand horizons and open students up to new experiences and opportunities. To allow schools to choke off any potentially developing interests is irresponsible."
In defense of its decision to hold girls' soccer in the spring, Mamaroneck surveyed students from seventh to 12th grade and announced that more than a majority of female respondents wanted soccer to remain in the spring.
The federal court was not persuaded and Mamaroneck lost, but that was before the new federal clarification.
With so much ambiguity surrounding the impact of the new Title IX guidelines, the Women's Sports Foundation is watching one case in Texas to see if the clarification plays a role.
Lamar Consolidated Independent School District in Rosenberg, Texas, surveyed its students this past spring to determine why participation rates of female students dropped dramatically from junior high to high school. The surveys were a recommendation by Dr. Lucia Norwood, an independent auditor, who said the surveys would help determine "if the sports offered are of interest to the girls and also reveal if the girls actually have any interest in the athletic program."
The audit was obtained by the Women's Sports Foundation under the state's sunshine law and shared with ABCNEWS.com.
"That internal audit reveals some real concerns to Title IX compliance, and they're recommending the easy way out," said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "The reason why people don't comply with Title IX is they think they can't spend more money or are afraid of the political consequences of raising money. " She called the survey test "a free lottery ticket."
Athletic director Fletcher Walker said the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District administered the surveys in the spring and are in the process of tallying the results.
As for Emily Geldwert, she will be playing soccer at Brown University in the fall. Brown was involved in one of the landmark Title IX cases in the 1990s.
"I wrote my college essay on title IX," she said. "I wasn't quite sure if I should do it since they had to go through a lot of struggle with the Title IX case."
No worries for Geldwert. She won't have to fret about the clarification affecting her future soccer plans. Brown complies with Title IX using prong one of the three-part test -- by mirroring the ratio of female and male athletes to the same ratio in the student body.