Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, and sometimes boys and girls don’t happily remain in easily defined boxes. This fall, stories from around the country offer varyious perspectives on the issue of girls playing on boys teams and vice versa.
Sometimes, the stories are like that of Mina Johnson, an 8th grader in southeastern Virginia, and a powerful defender on Southampton Academy’s JV football team. Mina sat out her team’s contest against Northeastern Academy because that school had threatened to forfeit the game if she took the field. Northeastern belongs to a league that prohibits boys and girls from playing against each other in any sport. But Mina’s team beat the school anyway, 60-0, while sporting pink accessories for the game, in honor of Mina and of breast cancer awareness.
More often, though, the stories are about acceptance and support.
This fall, not one, but two Midwestern homecoming queens are also varsity football players: defensive back Jaden Witt, of Ashby, Minn., and kicker Brianna Amat, of Pinckney, Mich. Then there’s the inspiring Detroit tale of offensive lineman Monique Howard, who was a troubled and aggressive high school dropout until an attentive coach helped her get her act together, get back to school, and constructively channel her energy in basketball and football. It’s a story we’ve heard about plenty of boys, but a girl in the starring role gives the story a new twist. And less dramatic stories of girls playing football — and playing it well — go on and on, as recounted in a round-up at ESPN. “I never expected to have a girl be my middle linebacker,” Fort Vancouver, Wash., coach Eric Ollikainen told ESPN about player Lisa Spangler. “But my job is to get the best 11 on the field, and she’s one of my best.”
Meanwhile, boys like Olivier Everts, put on kilts and play field hockey on girls teams because boys teams aren’t usually available in the U.S, although they are common in Olivier’s native Netherlands.
Back in February, readers of this blog overwhelmingly sided with the Iowa wrestler who refused to compete against a girl from an opposing team because his beliefs told him it was wrong. Seventy-seven percent of poll respondents called his choice “respectful,” rather than “sexist.”
Undoubtedly, boys and girls will continue to attempt to climb over barriers keeping them out of certain sports, and communities and schools will continue to face the question of whether to let them. Schools have to ask themselves: Should we allow individual kids to pursue those sports that are most interesting and engaging to them, and that make best use of their individual gifts? Or do we believe that a single-sex social environment is a critically important aspect of high school sports that provides its own irreplaceable benefits? Does it make a difference if we’re talking about a boy joining a girls team, or a girl joining a boys team? How do we apply the Pillars of Respect and Fairness to these situations?
These are questions that different teams, communities, and individuals will answer in different ways.
One thing is for sure: times have changed since Ms. Frankie Groves played a game on her rural Texas high school’s team in 1947. In the uproar that followed, Ms. Groves’ father resigned his post as school board president, her mother was too embarrassed to leave the house for a year afterward, and Texas’ interscholastic league administrators passed a rule prohibiting girls from playing football. That rule came off the books in 1993.
Image: Pershing High’s Monique Howard (R) and a teammate. (Detroit Free Press)