Title IX issues

TITLE IX ISSUES: Should Boys Be Allowed to Play on Girls’ HS Teams?

This is a topic we’ve covered before, and not surprisingly, it keeps popping up in the news. It’s worth reviewing again.

I picked up my local newspaper the other day and I was reading about a sport with which I admittedly have little expertise in….HS field hockey.

I’m reading about how Lakeland HS has won six straight NYS championships in field hockey, and in fact, hasn’t lost to a NY State-based team since 2008 – that’s a long time ago.

But this year, Lakeland is going to face a major challenge from Rye HS, which has its own terrific program, and this fall, Rye is going to feature not one but two male players on its team.

And that’s where I got thinking…

Is it really the purpose of Title IX to allow boys to play on girls’ teams?

This issue came up a few years ago when a boy named Keeling Pilaro played on a HS field hockey team at Southhampton HS on Long Island. He was allowed to play, for a year or two, until the governing HS body – Section 11 of NYS — decided that he was, in effect, becoming too good a player and would dominate against the girls.

The reality was that Pilaro stood only 4’8 and weighed 90 pounds. And yet, the ruling body felt that his presence would dominate the outcome of games. Section 11 decided to ban him from playing after his freshman year.

We’ve also talked about boys playing for a girls’ HS volleyball team. That happened up in Chappaqua, NY at Horace Greeley HS, where two boys – claiming that there was no comparable HS boys volleyball program – were allowed to play on the girls’ team.

As I recall, those boys had to first pass some sort of physical test that would show that they weren’t TOO strong to play against the girls. I never really understood how a test like that works. Besides, if a boy wanted to play on the girls’ team, wouldn’t he try to fail that test that shows he’s too strong?

Now, on the flip side, there have been lots of instances where girls have played on baseball teams, or have wrestled on boys’ teams, or played ice hockey or football.

But some  questions still haunt me….specifically:

If it’s okay for boys to play on a girls’ team, why wouldn’t I go out – as a HS coach  – and try to recruit a bunch of boys to start playing field hockey when they are in middle school so that they have the requisite training and skill to compete at the varsity level a few years later?

And then they could compete on the girls team, saying that their schools don’t have a comparable field hockey team for boys. How could a governing body decide to ban them all from playing? Isn’t that total sex discrimination?

Another question…if a boy is playing on the girls’ field hockey team or volleyball team, isn’t he taking playing time or even a roster spot from a deserving girl?

Isn’t that totally against the spirit of Title IX — which promises fairness and equality for girls?

These are tricky questions, and I invited Nancy Haggerty, the well-respected sports writer for The Journal News, onto my show to discuss. Nancy felt that perhaps the best solution would be to allow any boy or any girl to try out and play any sport they chose in HS. Yes, they would still have to make the team based on talent, but that would be the ultimate determinant, not one’s gender.

We had our usual good questions this AM, including whether it would be fair for big, hefty boys to play field hockey. For example, in Massachusetts, where boys have played on girls’ field hockey teams for decades, it’s common for good-sized boys to compete. Just a couple of years ago, in a championship game with the score tied, a hefty fellow bowled over the goalie to score the winning goal. In fact, the goalie suffered a serious concussion from the hit.

But as Nancy pointed out, there are HS girls who are also fairly hefty in size, and that kind of hit could have happened from a girl running over the goalie.

So what’s the bottom line? Hard to say. There are just too many layers to peel away here. But I could definitely see a situation where a talented male athlete is banned from playing on a girls’ team, and that boy could end up suing for sexual discrimination. Or a situation where 6-7 boys end up playing on a girls’ field hockey team.

One thing is for sure. I don’t think this issue is going to go away soon.