It’s all fun and games until someone is the wrong gender – as is the case with a 13 year-old boy who wants to play girls’ field hockey.
A few weeks ago 13 year-old Keeling Pilaro was kicked off Southampton High School’s girls’ varsity field hockey team after playing with them for two years. As a bit of background, it’s worth noting that Keeling was raised in Ireland where, like most European countries, field hockey is very popular and there are plenty of opportunities for boys to play. However after coming to The States, Keeling’s only option to continue playing the sport he has been active in for so long was to join the girls’ team at his school. As a result he had to get special permission to play on the girls team.
It was determined by Section 11, the overseeing body of Suffolk County’s high school sports programs, that as a boy he had a very significant advantage over the girl players. The executive director of the governing body, Ed Cinelli, had a bit more to say:
“As a sport, it’s a girls sport. When a boy plays, it leads the way for other male players to come in and take over.”
However Keeling has been playing with the girls’ team for the last two years and I’m sure that if there were a bunch of male players trying to “take over” they would have been mentioned right?
But anyway there seemed to be a bit of a clashing of provision and law.
In one corner you have Title IX, a 40-year-old law enacted to provide women equal access to athletic opportunities. The use of this law by a male may be rare but due to boys’ field hockey not being available on Long Island, and scarce throughout the rest of the United States, it may be a valid claim.
In the other corner is Ed Cinelli of Section 11, with a provision of state education law that says they are allowed to ban boys from playing on girls’ sport teams if Keeling’s participation “would have a significant adverse effect on a girl’s opportunity to participate in interschool competition in that sport.” Officials seem to believe that Kelling’s skills are now at a point that he would have an unfair advantage over the girls that he would be playing with/against. (This may explain why they were fine with him playing for the last two years but now suddenly want to ban him from playing.)
An appeals hearing was held a few days ago and after a vote (that was not unanimous) he has been allowed to continue playing.
In the first ruling to bar him from the team it was cited that the young man made it onto the all-conference team last season when he was in the eighth grade.
At the appeal hearing, supporters for Keeling countered with citing that there was at least one eighth grade girl who made the all-conference team that year as well. Also while he made all-conference he did not earn all-county honors, far more prestigious than all-conference. Additionally the team only finished fourth in their conference that year.
So he has been allowed to continue playing with the girls’ field hockey team… for now.
The officials that kicked him off the team initially said they only considered his skills, not his size or strength. Well his size and strength are going to increase as he ages and they will influence his skills in the sport (think about whether or not Shaquille O’neal’s near 20 years of dominance on the courts of the NBA had anything to do with his size and strength). Chances are they will increase to the point that Section 11 will one day decide that he is indeed “too skilled” to play on the girls’ team.
So what do you think?
Should Keeling be allowed to continue playing, should he be barred now, or allowed to play until he does develop physically to the point that he is “too good” to play with girls?
Do stories like this and those of boys teams forfeiting games because of a single girl on the opposing team mean that even with things like Title XI that promote gender equality in sports we still have problems with boys and girls playing together?
Is it right to allow girls to play on boy’s teams as they wish but allow boys to only play on girl’s teams until their physical development surpasses that of girls?
Image of Hockey Stick on Field courtesy of Shutterstock