Archive for Title IX issues

TITLE IX ISSUES: The Untapped Power of Moms Who Coach

 Women as Youth League Coaches

 By Doug Abrams

 With planning for spring youth league seasons underway in many communities, Renee Moilanen contributed a thoughtful article late last month in The Daily Breeze (Torrance, Calif.). The theme was that sports programs serve players best by assuring qualified women opportunities to coach. Her reminder is timely and right.

Moilanen reports that dads “dominate” youth sports coaching ranks nationwide, with moms comprising only 13% of soccer coaches and 6% of baseball coaches. Many youth leaguers, said writer Kara Yorio two years ago, finish their playing days without ever having a female coach.

Overcoming the nationwide under-representation of women in youth league coaching benefits boys’ teams, girls’ teams, and mixed teams. In the short term, many women today bring equal or greater knowledge and experience to the playing field than many men. In the longer term, playing for talented female head coaches or assistant coaches teaches youth leaguers lifelong respect for gender equity. This column discusses both the short-term and longer-term benefits.

Knowledge and Experience

First, the short term benefits. . . . Forty-five years after Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, many of today’s young and middle-aged women grew up playing sports in youth leagues and beyond. Their playing experience stacked up well to that of their male classmates. Today qualified women, like qualified men, can teach boys and girls plenty because individual skills and team strategies are gender-neutral.

Rick Wolff once told me about a particularly fruitful season that his son spent in youth hockey as a ten-year-old more than two decades ago. “He played for a female hockey coach for a year when he was a squirt,” Rick said, “and Joyce was one of the best coaches he ever had. She knew hockey, she could skate and stick handle, and she could communicate.” In just one sentence, Rick pinpointed three markers shared by effective coaches, male or female.

In his book, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009), Michael A. Messner found that gender stereotypes still lead some sports programs to steer men and women down different paths, even when a woman’s athletic experience equals or surpasses a man’s. “The head coach—nearly always a man—is the leader and the public face of the team; the team parent—nearly always a woman—is working less visibly behind the scenes, doing the ‘housekeeping’ support work; assistant coaches—mostly men, but including the occasional woman—help the coach on the field during practices and games.”

Players’ skills development is bound to suffer when the board of directors appoints a less experienced head coach – male or female — over an applicant with greater experience. Players are the losers when their sports program overlooks qualified women or consigns them to cheer from the stands. Or channels qualified women into roles as “team moms” who arrange postgame snacks, organize road trips, and perform other similar important but auxiliary chores that can be done equally well by mothers or fathers who do not seek to coach.

As Messner intimates, gender stereotypes do not influence only appointments to head coaching slots. On most of the youth hockey teams I saw in 40 years or so, coaching staffs included inexperienced or less experienced male assistants, including fathers who began paying attention to the game only when their own children enrolled. The assistants were not ready for head coaching, but most contributed by helping to conduct practice sessions, supervise the team, and lead on the bench. After a season or two, some of these assistants assumed head coaching positions. Many inexperienced or less experienced female assistant coaches can make similar contributions before perhaps graduating to head coaching later on.

Gender Equity

Now for the longer-term benefits of naming qualified women as youth league coaches. . . . Youth sports competition teaches youngsters not only game skills, but also citizenship lessons, including lessons about gender equity. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urges programs to “acclimate all kids to women coaches from a young age” because “a more diverse mix of men and women coaching . . . would help change assumptions that tend to form early.”

With about 35 million children playing each year, sports is a prime engine for influencing assumptions of boys and girls destined to collaborate with one another as adults in the workplace and the community. Behavioralists and child psychologists debate the relative influences of biology and social environment on children’s emerging attitudes. But these professionals generally agree that “nature” and “nurture” can each affect socialization by shaping early perceptions.

Nicole LaVoi is right that “when females occupy coaching positions it provides evidence, for boys and girls, that women can succeed and be powerful.” Children are more apt to develop these perceptions when their sports programs appoint (as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matthew J.X. Malady advises) “the right coach, not the right gender.”

Challenges and Opportunities

When it names a woman coach, the youth league’s board of directors may face skeptics at first, particularly on boys’ teams. The selection process begins with advertising and other outreach that welcomes both men and women to coach in accordance with their qualifications.

The next, and sometimes equally challenging, step is to maintain an environment that supports every coach’s effort to succeed with players and their families, including some who may initially be wary of a female head or assistant. Brooke de Lench, executive director of MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, writes about how she overcame skepticism and wariness several years ago to lead her sixth- and seventh-grade boys’ soccer team to a nearly undefeated season marked by sportsmanship and fair play. It was “simply a joy,” she says, “to see the power that sport has in bringing people together.”

Two generations after enactment of Title IX, old ideas sometimes fly below the radar screen. When Messner conducted interviews for his book just a few years ago, most male youth coaches said that they had never thought about how sometimes subtle, but nonetheless formidable, barriers can channel qualified women away from youth coaching to seats in the stands or service as “team moms.”

As our nation continues to make strides toward gender equity on the playing field and beyond, youngsters and their families are better off when sports programs do think about these barriers. And when programs appoint the most qualified men and the most qualified women to coach the boys and girls whose short-term and longer-term betterment the programs seek to advance.


Sources: Renee Moilanen, It’s Time For Women To Step Up To the Plate — For the Sake of Their Little Leaguers, Daily Breeze, Jan. 27, 2017; Kara Yorio, North Jersey Women Defy the Notion that Only Men Can Mentor Youth Teams (Sept. 27, 2015),; Michael A. Messner, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009); Matthew J.X. Malady, Why Don’t Any Women Coach Big-Time Men’s Sports? And Why Don’t We Care?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 7, 2012; Nicole M. LaVoi, Occupational Sex Segregation In a Youth Soccer Organization: Females In Positions of Power, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 18, p. 25 (Sept. 2009); Brooke de Lench, A Mother’s Touch: Coaching a Boys’ Soccer Team: One Mom’s Story,


TITLE IX ISSUES: 40 Years After Title IX Became Law, Why Are There Still So Few Female Coaches?

 How Narrowing the Gender Gap in Youth League Coaching Would Serve the Players

 By Doug Abrams

 Late last month, the Bergen Record and carried two articles about the under-representation of women in youth league coaching ranks nationwide. The University of Minnesota’s Nicole LaVoi estimates that women coach only about 10% of boys’ teams, and barely a higher percentage of girls’ teams. Many youth leaguers, says writer Kara Yorio, finish their playing days without ever having a female coach.

This column describes how the stark imbalance, and the gender stereotypes that help fuel it, disserve both boys and girls. The disservice begins on the field because in several sports, many women’s playing experience equals or exceeds the playing experience of many men. Experience typically translates into knowledge. The disservice can last into adulthood because playing for female head coaches or assistant coaches teaches boys and girls life lessons about gender equity in our society.

Experience and Knowledge of the Game

More than 40 years after Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the United States has many young and middle-aged women who grew up playing sports in youth leagues and beyond. Many mothers and other women today can teach boys and girls plenty about skills, and Yorio profiles female youth league coaches who measure up.

A local youth sports association restrains player development when the board of directors appoints an inexperienced head coach over an applicant considerably more experienced in the game. An association teaches skills best by assembling the deepest possible coaching pool, and not by artificially restricting the pool’s size.  Associations fail in this mission when subtle cues consign qualified women to seats in the stands, overlook women who wish to coach, or channel them into auxiliary roles as “team moms.”

In It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009), Michael A. Messner found that traditional expectations often push men and women in different directions, even when a woman’s resume shows years of athletic experience. “The head coach—nearly always a man—is the leader and the public face of the team; the team parent—nearly always a woman—is working less visibly behind the scenes, doing the ‘housekeeping’ support work; assistant coaches—mostly men, but including the occasional woman—help the coach on the field during practices and games.”

Traditional expectations do not end with head coaching slots. Boards of directors also assemble applications from parents and other adults who seem better suited for assistant coaching positions because they lack background in X’s and 0’s, but can help the head coach lead the youngsters.

On most of the youth hockey teams I have seen in the past 40 years or so, the coaching staffs included one or more inexperienced or less experienced male assistants, including ones who began paying close attention to the game only when their own children enrolled. Many of these assistants likely never played hockey as kids. The assistants might not have been ready for head coaching, but most made positive contributions by helping to conduct practice sessions, supervise the team, and provide leadership on the bench during games.

Many less experienced female assistant coaches can make these contributions as well as many less experienced men can. Assistants – men and women alike — may graduate to head coaching after gaining more experience. In their advertising and other outreach seeking qualified coaches, youth sports associations should foster coaching education by specifying that both men and women may serve in accordance with their individual talents.

Gender Equity

Youth sports teaches youngsters not only playing skills, but also lifelong citizenship lessons. These citizenship lessons should include ones about appropriate gender roles. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette correctly urges youth leagues to “acclimate all kids to women coaches from a young age” because “a more diverse mix of men and women coaching . . . would help change assumptions that tend to form early.”

With about 35 million children playing each year, sports is a prime engine for influencing assumptions of boys and girls who will spend their adult lives working in gender-neutral settings. Behavioralists and child psychologists debate the relative influences of biology and social environment on children’s attitudes. But these professionals generally agree that “nature” and “nurture” can each affect socialization because experience can develop and change attitudes during childhood and adolescence.

Girls perceive a female coach as a strong role model, and boys learn greater acceptance of gender equality when they perceive a woman in a leadership position. LaVoi is right that “when females occupy coaching positions it provides evidence, for boys and girls, that women can succeed and be powerful.”

Children are more apt to develop these perceptions when their local sports associations appoint (as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matthew J.X. Malady advises) “the right coach, not the right gender.” The association’s next, and sometimes equally challenging, step is to support each coach’s effort to succeed with players and their families, including some players and families who may initially be wary of a woman’s appointment to a head or assistant position.

The Challenges Ahead

For some people, stereotypes die hard. Just a few days ago, Major League Baseball’s playoffs suggested that challenges remain for advocates of gender equity in sports leadership at all levels, including youth leagues. ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza became the first woman to offer on-air commentary throughout a nationally televised playoff game. Mendoza is a prominent former softball player, a four-time first-team Stanford University All-American and a two-time Olympic medalist, one gold and one silver.

I agree with most reviewers that her articulate, insightful contributions met or exceeded the standards generally set by male on-air television sports commentators. But I was not surprised to read the usual brushback from some website readers and at least one radio sports talk show host, many of whom seemed taken aback by an accomplished female athlete’s appearance in the broadcast booth of a so-called “male” sport.

According to Maury Brown, writing in Forbes, “Mendoza has become a rising star in the broadcast world, not because she’s a woman, but because she’s proven to be a solid baseball voice.” For her part, Mendoza told USA TODAY’s Nancy Armour that “It’s 2015. I just want to get to the point where as long as you’re good at what you do, it shouldn’t matter who you are, what your gender is. . . .” This aspiration defines the essence of a meritocracy.

Youth sports associations need to rise above timeworn gender stereotypes and double standards, even when the board of directors might face doubters at first. For his book, Messner questioned male coaches about the informal channeling of women away from youth league coaching to be the “team moms” who organize road trips, arrange for postgame snacks, and perform similar auxiliary chores. Most coaches said that they had never thought about the prevalence or impact of informal channeling. Players and their families would be better off if more sports associations did think about it nowadays, and if they acted on their better instincts for the boys and girls they serve.


Sources: Kara Yorio, North Jersey Women Defy the Notion that Only Men Can Mentor Youth Teams, ; Kara Yorio, For Women, a Gender Gap Persists On Youth Coaching Sidelines, ; Michael A. Messner, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009); Matthew J.X. Malady, Why Don’t Any Women Coach Big-Time Men’s Sports? And Why Don’t We Care?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 7, 2012; Nicole M. LaVoi, Occupational Sex Segregation In a Youth Soccer Organization: Females In Positions of Power, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 18, p. 25 (Sept. 2009); Maury Brown, Jessica Mendoza Will Be Back Next Year As Baseball Analyst For ESPN, Forbes, Oct. 9, 2015, ; Nancy Armour, Jessica Mendoza Took Long Road to Historic ESPN Analyst Job, USA TODAY, Sept. 10, 2015.

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.


Several notable developments occurred this past week focusing on youth soccer – and most notably – on concussions and especially with girls and women who play soccer.

Let me start by giving you the headlines and we’ll go from there:

A new study,  just published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, says that most concussions in youth soccer are NOT caused by heading the ball…but rather by athlete-to-athlete physical contact, such as jumping up for a loose ball and banging an opposing player’s head, or getting hit in the head by an opponent’s shoulder or elbow. Or when a player is tripped and falls to the ground, banging their head, or being crashed into as a goalkeeper.

Yes, heading a ball was still the most common way to suffer a concussion, but this study made it clear that MOST concussions were caused by physical and aggressive play.

But overall – and this is significant – female soccer players were much more likely to suffer concussions than their male counterparts. Girls averaged 4.5 concussions per 10,000 games or practice, whereas the boys averaged only 2.87 per 10,000.

The conclusion from this medical paper was that soccer officials working games really need to step up and do a much better job of enforcing the rules of the game so that there is less physical contact and less aggressive play, and thereby that would reduce the number of concussions.

Now, that may be easier said than done. If you haven’t seen a HS or travel soccer match recently, trust me, they are very physical. Soccer is indeed a big-time contact sport.

Let me go on….

There was a class action lawsuit brought against FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, which claimed that FIFA and other soccer organizations need to change the rules of the sport in order to limit the risk of concussions and other head injuries to kids who play the sport.

That lawsuit, which was brought by seven amateur soccer players, was concerned that rough and aggressive play needs to be reined in. They were asking that heading be limited with younger players, making it easier to substitute in a game if a player suffers an apparent head injury, and so on.

But a federal judge in Oakland, CA,  dismissed the case against the plaintiffs, saying that they could not use the court system to change FIFA’s rules….and furthermore, it was the plaintiffs own choice to play soccer; in other words, by choosing to play soccer, they were taking on the assumption of the risk of getting hurt.

The judge ruled that not only was the court system not the right venue to change the sport’s rules, but if you don’t want your kid to get hurt playing soccer or suffer a concussion, then don’t play the sport.

That may be a bit harsh…but that’s what the court ruled.

For soccer parents, and especially whose whose girls play soccer, this is all a bit disturbing. Yes, we all want our kids to continue to play soccer and to reap all the benefits of the game, but as several of the callers mentioned today (and especially the coaches), too often the games are becoming more chippy and physical, and the officials need to take more control.


TITLE IX ISSUES: Is it Okay for Two Senior Boys to Compete on a HS Girls’ Volleyball Team?

I think it’s fair to say that one of the greatest mandates ever passed in this country has to do with empowering girls/women to have an equal playing field when it comes to playing sports.

Title IX, which was passed in 1972,  made it a federal law that females have just as much right as their male counterparts to compete in athletics. That was, by all accounts, the original spirit and intent of that law.

For those of us who remember when Title IX went into action, it immediately guaranteed that girls/women could play a variety of sports – just as boys did.

But over the years, Title IX — at least in my opinion – has been occasionally twisted in its application, and especially when boys feel that they have a right to compete in girls’ sports.

Example: this past week two senior boys from Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua, NY, were named to the varsity girls’ volleyball team there. The boys, one of whom is 6-0 tall, claim that since there’s no comparable boys’ volleyball team in the school (or for that matter, any where else in Westchester County), then their rights to play volleyball are being denied, and thus they have every right to compete on the girls’ team.

Here’s my perspective – and I realize this may not be politically correct: that Title IX was passed to empower females to compete in sports – not to remedy athletic situations for when boys somehow feel slighted. More specifically, I would imagine that if those two boys are playing on the girls’ squad, they are taking playing time away from other girls who want to compete. And their place on the squad may have pushed two other girls to be cut, or perhaps to be demoted to the JV team.

And of course, how is this fair to other teams which compete against Greeley and have teams comprised solely of girls?

Finally, this case involves two boys. What’s to stop five or 10 Greeley boys to try out and compete on the girls’ team?

My colleague Doug Abrams was my guest on WFAN this AM, and we debated all of these issues, and I think we both came to the same conclusion on this matter. But as Doug pointed out, these situations are usually decided by the local school board or superintendent within each town. And usually these situations are decided based upon the individual merits of the case.

For example, a year ago, Keeling Pilaro, a young man who grew up playing field hockey in Ireland but then moved to Long Island with his family, was allowed to keep playing that sport in HS. The governing body felt that Pilaro was helped in his quest to play because of his relatively small stature (4-9, 90 pounds) and that he wouldn’t be a safety threat to the girls. In other words, if he had been 6-3, 220, a different decision would probably have been made.

But to me, I still feel one has to apply common sense when it comes to Title IX issues. The law was specifically put into action to help girls/women. But in this case at Greeley HS, Title IX is being used to hold girls back by allowing two boys to play on their team. That doesn’t seem to make sense to me.



Why Civil Rights Were at Stake in the Pilaro Field Hockey Case

By Doug Abrams

Fourteen-year-old Keeling Pilaro will play field hockey for Long Island’s Southhampton High School again next season after all.  On Tuesday morning, his continued participation was approved by a close vote of an appeals panel of Section 11, which supervises Suffolk County’s high school sports.  The ultimate issue was whether Title IX would permit him to play on the girls’ field hockey team because his high school does not field a boys’ team in that sport.  “Title IX,” of course, is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark congressional statute that prohibits gender discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Pilaro case attracted national, and indeed international, attention as a so-called “reverse discrimination” case, which saw a boy assert rights under a mandate that Congress designed to produce gender equity by overcoming barriers historically imposed against girls and women.  Gender-discrimination challenges by boys and men are actually quite common in American law, but these challenges raise eyebrows, even when (as often happens) the male challenger wins in the Supreme Court or the lower courts. 

In the Pilaro case, plenty of eyebrows were raised among both supporters and opponents of Keeling and his parents.  In Newsday and other interactive newspaper websites, opponents argued, among other things, that (1) the Pilaros should not have hired a lawyer, (2) the Pilaros should not have said that they would challenge an adverse Section 11 ruling in court, and (3) Keeling should choose a “boys’ sport” rather than “girls’ sport.”  According to two of the more than 200 readers who have weighed in on Newsday’s website alone, “It’s pathetic that he is not playing lacrosse instead of field hockey,” and “[H]ere is what it comes down to these days, ‘if my kid doesn’t get his way, we’ll just sue sue sue.’”   

Vindicating Civil Rights

Each of these three arguments misses the point. Title IX is a civil rights statute, enacted by Congress to eradicate gender discrimination in elementary, secondary and higher education.  Indeed, Congress expressly patterned Title IX after Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination for race, color, or national origin in “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

The United States was built on challenges asserted by persons who believed that official action violated civil rights granted to them by statute or the Constitution.  And yes, lawyers typically represent these challengers as they seek vindication before administrative agencies and courts.  Sometimes challengers win and sometimes they lose, but seeking to vindicate one’s civil rights under law is as American as apple pie. 

Field hockey is only a game, of course, and one youngster’s participation or non-participation at one Long Island high school may seem like no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  Surely the Pilaro case did not concern world peace, nuclear disarmament, or any of the other momentous public issues that concern us these days.  But to a 13-year-old, playing a chosen sport is a big deal.  The Pilaro case’s outcome was a big deal because Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have rightfully made civil rights challenges under Title IX — by individual women and men alike — a big deal for the past four decades.

One person’s solitary effort to secure a civil rights law’s protection may seem like small potatoes, but potatoes tend to appear larger when they are your potatoes.  I recall Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1972 case brought by a group of Amish parents who believed that application of the state’s compulsory education act to their older teens violated their First Amendment rights to free exercise of their religion.  The state act required parents to send their children to public school until the age of 16 (unless they attended private school or were home schooled), but the Amish parents asserted that their religious beliefs compelled an end to formal schooling at 14.  The parents took the case all the way to the Supreme Court – and they won.  

What was at stake in the Yoder case?  The Supreme Court victory overturned the fine that state authorities had imposed on each parent for violating the compulsory education act.  The fines amounted to five dollars each.

Choose Another Sport?

It is no answer to say that Keeling Pilaro could choose another sport.  Of course he could, but imposing that choice does not answer the question whether Title IX’s civil rights mandate entitles him to play field hockey.  A person denied civil rights can usually find a less palatable alternative, but resolution of civil rights guarantees must come first.

When Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, for example, she had alternatives.  She could have walked to work, driven to work, asked a friend to drive her, or taken a taxi.  Or she could have stayed home altogether.  But with the help of lawyers, she challenged discrimination and asserted her civil rights as she saw them.  We know the rest of the story as the Civil Rights Movement moved into high gear.

Nor is it an answer to dismiss field hockey a “girls sport.”  In most of the rest of the world (including Ireland, where Keeling spent his early years and learned to play), field hockey is a sport for males and females alike in local, regional and high level national competition.  Indeed, men’s field hockey worldwide is considerably older than women’s field hockey.  

Field hockey evolved as a female sport in the United States partly because of the sort of gender discrimination that Title IX seeks to combat.  When I was in high school in the late 1960s, field hockey was one of the few socially acceptable sports for the relatively few girls who chose to play interscholastic sports at all.  Without artificial turf that came only later, field hockey was a rather slow game, played on grass that was often too long and usually had the rough surfaces that characterize natural lawns.  Players did not get too dirty, and the players typically wore skirts that made them look like — well — girls.


In fact, girls in the United States often participate on boys athletic teams and (less frequently) boys participate on girls teams in sports not classified as contact or collision sports.  I found the Readers’ Comments to Newsday’s coverage of the Pilaro case to be tough reading because many missed points such as this, but also because so many comments descended into the snide innuendo that passes for public discussion whenever a newspaper covers a controversial matter these days and invites readers’ responses from the anonymity of the keyboard.  I can only imagine the content of the comments that did not pass’s Terms of Service.

As I wrote in last week’s column , Title IX has changed America for the better by helping to bring girls and women closer to the mainstream of our national life.  I am glad that the Pilaros stood up for their son in this case, however, and equally glad that they won before the Section 11 appeals panel.  I felt that fairness was on the Pilaros’ side, and that they stood an excellent chance on court review of an adverse decision.  As I said last week, Keeling “plays clean; fits in well with his coaches and teammates; holds the support of his school’s administration; and poses no safety risk to girls because, at 4’8” and 86 pounds, he is smaller than many of them.” 

Unless the safety factor changes in future years, Keeling Pilaro now gets to play his sport as girls strive to develop their own skills to meet the competition. This equation is why the United States has civil rights laws, and why — win or lose — these laws deserve robust enforcement.

Title IX and the “Level Playing Field”

By Doug Abrams

Rick Wolff and I had another stimulating conversation on “The Sports Edge” last Sunday morning, this time about Title IX’s dramatic effect on the lives of boys and girls in sports.  Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, of course, is the landmark congressional legislation that prohibits gender discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  The prohibition reaches public school districts and the governing bodies that administer interscholastic sports.

The impetus for Sunday morning’s Title IX conversation concerned a tentative decision to deny ninth-grader Keeling Pilaro’s request to continue playing on the girls’ field hockey team at Southampton High School, which does not field a boys’ field hockey team.  By all media accounts, the 13-year-old Keeling plays clean; fits in well with his coaches and teammates; holds the support of his school’s administration; and poses no safety risk to girls because, at 4’8” and 86 pounds, he is smaller than many or most of them.  According to Section 11 (which supervises Suffolk County’s high school sports), Keeling may not play next season because he has become too talented in the two years that he has already played on the high school team with the Section’s permission, and without incident.

“Not a Denials Committee”

The Suffolk County Title IX dispute reminds me of a story that makes the rounds here at the University of Missouri Law School.  A few years ago, one of my colleagues took a special approach to his role as chair of the Admissions Committee, the four-member faculty group that determines which applicants are admitted and which ones are denied.  Like other law schools of our caliber, we have a selective admissions process, with less than half the applicants gaining admission.  Denials remain unpleasant because they affect people’s lives, but denials are inevitable in any academic admissions process.  In close cases, however, my faculty colleague always gave the applicant the benefit of the doubt because, he said, “We are the Admissions Committee, not the Denials Committee.”

School administrators and league officials should take a similar approach when they affect the lives of children in sports.  These authorities should consider themselves sports providers, not sports deniers.  

With the demise of choose-up sandlot-style play in the past generation or so, boys and girls today usually face the prospect of either playing adult-organized sports or playing no sports at all.  It is no answer to say that a player like Keeling Pilaro can simply try to “find another sport.”  Participation in youth sports is meant to be fun and fulfilling, an avocation and not a vocation.  The real question is whether the player gets to compete in the sport that engages his or her passions, and not whether the player might search for some other sport.  

Title IX helped remake America for the better, but adults administering high school sports should not exclude a student from participation except for solid reasons, when no alternative appears.  Reasons for exclusion may exist, for example, when a team’s roster cannot accommodate all players who try out, when a player lacks the requisite skills, or when a player poses a chronic discipline problem.  Under Title IX and the federal Constitution’s equal-protection law, however, talent and hard work should tip the scales in favor of a boy who plays by the rules and raises no plausible claim of physical danger to girls, but who has no other high school opportunity to pursue his game. 

[I had planned to continue last week’s column with “The Power of Thank-You — Part II” this week, but I think that the field hockey case calls for timely discussion.  Unless something else develops, I will present “Part II” next week.]

“You can’t play any more because you’re too good” – A Very Strange Case of Title IX

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the wonderful federal law that mandates equal play for boys and girls in HS and college sports. By all measures, this has been a law which has brought only good things to sports.

But that being said, every so often a quirky situation develops and it leaves everybody scratching their head. Here’s the latest controversy involving Title IX:

An 8th grade boy named Keeling Pilaro who grew up in Ireland is challenging a New York State HS athletic board which says, in effect, that he can no longer play on the Southampton HS field hockey team because he made the All-Conference team last fall.

A few facts you should know. In most countries around the world, field hockey – which is traditionally a girls’ sports in the US – is played by boys and men. Pilaro grew up playing field hockey in Ireland, and when he moved to the US, he discovered that the only way to keep playing his sport is by being on the HS girls’ team.

Under Title IX, if there is no comparable sport (e.g girls’ basketball =  boys’ basketball), then the boy has a right to play on the girls’ team, if he can make the team.

Pilaro stands all of 4’8″ tall and weighs about 100 pounds. He is not a physical threat to the girls. By all accounts he’s a talented and clean player.

Last fall Pilaro was one of the league’s top scorers, and was named to the All-Conference team.

Section XI – the ruling body for Long Island – has ruled that Pilaro was such a good player that he can no longer play for Southampton HS.

Law professor Doug Abrams came on my radio show this past weekend to go over all the angles on this case, and I think it’s fair to say that he concluded that if Section XI continues to hold that Pilaro can not play, then Pilaro would have a pretty good case for discrimination.

There are all sorts of inequities here in a sitaution which, ironically, is supposed to be about equality. For example, in Massachusetts, boys are routinely allowed to play field hockey on girls’ team under the protection of Title IX and have done for years. And there are plenty of cases where girls have played on boys’ teams (such as wrestling, football, ice hockey, and so on).

So why is Section XI picking on this kid? And what kind of rationale is being used when you rule that a kid who has worked hard at his sport has now become disqualified because he’s become too good?

I’m sure there are lots of legal explanations here, but from my perspective, this just doesn’t make any sense.

My Top Ten Sports Parenting Predictions for 2012…

So much has happened in recent years in the ever-changing world of sports parenting, that I thought I’d finish out 2011 with my Top Ten Predictions for the coming year. Here we go:

10. LL Baseball will follow the NCAA and the Nat’l HS Baseball Federation and allow only BBCOR (and of course wood) bats. No more BESR aluminum bats with their huge sweet spots and dangerous trampoline effects.

Problem is, this new rule, I predict, won’t go into effect until 2013 as the bat manufacturers still want to sell off their large inventory of BESR aluminum bats. As such, LL Baseball mandatory use of BBCOR won’t kick in until 2013.

9. Wood bats will stay remain quite popular with serious young ballplayers.

Let’s face it – any young man who dreams of someday playing pro ball (where only wood is used) will continue to use wood bats during the summer leagues and use BBCOR during HS games.

8. More and more travel teams will try and block their players from playing on their local HS team.

It’s cruel to force HS kids to make a choice between playing for their HS varsity or playing for their travel team, but we’re already seeing this happen with US Soccer Academy forcing soccer players to choose. Sadly, this pattern is only going to continue into the new year.

7. More and more states will enact stronger legislation that will control the over-the-counter sale of high-energy and high-caffeine drinks to kids.

There have already been a number of serious health issues in the news, especially with HS athletes drinking these unregulated sports drinks. Parents need to know that just because these drinks are packaged brightly and sold in stores does not mean that they are safe, or have been scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration.

In short, too many of these drinks contain seriously dangerous elements link arsenic and lead, and can lead to all sorts of health isssues.

6. Refs, umps, and officials will be given more latitude to end lopsided games and keep sportsmanship in play.

We keep hearing about lopsided scores, and that the coaches don’t mind running up the score. Here’s hoping that if the coaches can’t control themselves, the refs and umps will step in, and once they see a rout is in progress, they allow the clock to run, and if necessary, just stop the game.

Nobody benefits from a lopsided score, and you always run the risk of bitter feelings and fights. So, let’s allow the refs and umps to use their power and do the right thing.

5. In order to help defray the rising cost of HS sports, kids will be charged a fee for trying out.

Hard to believe, but this is already happening in Minnesota, where some public HS’s are already charging varsity hopefuls $50 to try out for the team. This idea may sound outrageous, but it’s the kind of idea that will spread like wildfire.

4. More clarification will be forthcoming regarding boys competing against girls in traditional HS female-oriented sports.

Title IX is a wonderful law, but it was never supposed to be used as a way for 18-year-old boys to compete on the HS girls’ field hockey team, nor allow boys to compete on the HS girls’ swim team. The time has come for the federal govt. to step in and clarify the purpose of the law.

3. More and more coaches will undergo background checks.

In light of the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, more and more youth leagues will insist that all coaches undergo background checks. This is good news, but unfortunately, only those individuals who have ever been convicted of such a crime will be caught. Parents, always use common sense when it comes to your young athletes and their coaches!

2. HS Codes of Conduct need to be bolstered in terms of cyberbullying.

We have discussed this many times on the show, and in 2012, we really need HS administrators, ADs, coaches and school boards to step up and strengthen the Code of Conduct for athletes regarding online behavior.

Kids still don’t understand how powerful the internet can be, or for that matter, how dangerous. And once something that is alarming or libelous is posted, it’s very difficult to take down once it goes viral.

1. Amazingly in 2012….kids will still love playing sports!

After all the tremendous pressure we put on our kids regarding sports – and I’m talking about the pressure that comes from Moms, Dads, coaches, travel teams, try outs, etc – it’s still amazing that our children love playing sports. But they do!

As such, in 2012, make yourself a promise that you will take a deep breath, take a step back, and will just allow your son or daughter to enjoy the moment of playing sports. If we all did that, it would make for a very healthy and happy new year for us all!

Has Title IX Gone Too Far In Terms of Guaranteeing Equal Play for both Sexes?

Every sports parent agrees that Title IX, which was passed in 1972, has had only positive results in terms of making sure females have a right to compete in sports, just as their male counterparts have. Numerous studies have shown that girls who play competitive sports come away with higher self-esteem, better physical fitness, better study habits, and so on. Plus, of course, they have a chance to enjoy what we guys have always known about playing sports, e.g. it’s great fun to chase one’s dreams in the world of athletics.

But while certainly Title IX has worked wonders for the most part, we do have some of these anomalies where, for example, boys are allowed to compete on girls’ swim teams…or boys are allowed to compete on girls’ field hockey teams. Now, there have plenty of examples of girls playing on boys’ teams, such as girls competing against boys in wrestling, or girls playing on a HS football team.

But in Massachusetts, there have been episodes of boys playing on the field hockey squads, claiming that since there are no boys’ field hockey teams offered by their schools, they have every right to play with the girls. And they do. And along those same lines, in those schools where there’s a girls’ swim team, but no boys’ squad, the boys can compete on the girls’ team.

The ultimate irony happened a few weeks ago when a boy at Norwood HS broke a long-standing girls’ swim record in the 50-meter freestyle.

Now, you gotta ask yourself…is that right? Was that the intent of Title IX?

Seems to me that there is no easy answer here, but some of the callers this AM made some good suggestions. For example, just have 3 or 4 local high schools band together to form a boys’ swim squad if there aren’t enough male swimmers from one HS. Or, perhaps make it clear that any finishes that the boys put up in the swim meets are considered to be “exhibitions” as opposed to being legitimate.

There’s no reason easy solution here. But as one caller said, “If my daughter has worked her tail off over the years to swim endless hours, and become good enough to compete for a state championship when she’s 17 or 18, it sure isn’t fair to her to see a boy come in and beat her. Let’s face it – – there ARE physical differences in terms of size and strength when boys and girls are in their late teens, and it’s just not fair for the girls to be penalized.”

I think that Dad has a real good point. I’d be curious as to your suggestions or solutions.