Yesterday we posted about a girl playing on a boys team, so today we’ll discuss a couple of stories about cross-over participation of the other variety. Keeling Pilaro was recently excluded from the Southampton (NY) High School girls’ field hockey team, on which he had played for two years, by the Suffolk County high school athletics governing body, Section XI. Its policy allows boys to play on girls’ teams unless doing so creates “significant adverse effect upon the opportunity of females to participate successfully.” It appears that Pilaro, who grew up playing field hockey in Ireland, was deemed too good to be allowed to continue to play with girls. According to ESPN, he posted a “team-high 10 goals — not dominant by any means, but good enough to earn All-Conference recognition.” Many are objecting to the decision to exclude Pilaro, who is a small guy at 4’9″ and 82 pounds — and even opposing players and coaches have supported his right to play.
Elsewhere, it was reported that eighth grader Matthew Bozdech was denied a waiver from the Missouri State High School Athletics Association’s policy that excludes boys from girls teams, which he had sought in order to play field hockey on the newly formed girls team at Eureka High School. Bozdech has been playing field hockey for several years, and enjoys the camaraderie with his female teammates.
What does Title IX say about this? Contrary to suggestions in both stories, Title IX is not necessarily violated by a school that allows girls to try out for boys’ teams (football, say) but denies the same right to boys playing on girls’ teams. For one reason, when it comes to contact sports, Title IX allows but does not require schools to allow cross-over participation. There are some quirky definitions of contact sport out there — basketball is listed as a contact sport in the Title IX regulations — so it’s arguable field hockey shares this status as well. More importantly, Title IX regulations recognize that girls’ athletic opportunities have “historically been limited,” which justifies their crossover participation in a way that does not apply to boys, who usually have and have always had more athletic opportunities overall.
Yet, I will throw out a Title IX argument in favor of Keeling Pilaro’s case. Courts have held that once a school allows cross-over participation in situations where it is not required by Title IX, it may not then discriminate against that cross-over player on the basis of sex. I would argue that Section XI has elected to allow Pilaro to play even though Title IX does not require it to do so. Therefore, it may not single him out for differential treatment based on sex. Clearly it has done so, as no girls are subject to the possibility of losing eligibility for being too good at the game. Only Pilaro, because of his sex, faces the dilemma of playing well or playing at all.
Moreover, if I were in charge, I would opt to move the cross-over participation regulations out of the stone ages by (1) eliminating the contact sport exemption, which is blatantly rooted in sex stereotypes, and (2) requiring schools to allow cross-over participation to both sexes unless doing so would take away an actual opportunity from the underrepresented sex. Under this formulation, only two questions would be relevant in the two cases described above: (1) do girls have fewer athletic opportunities than boys at Eureka and Southampton high schools? and (2) does letting a boy play on the field hockey team reduce those opportunities even further? If girls are underrepresented in athletics at those schools, but the field hockey team has a “no cut” policy and would take any additional girl who wants to play (and be able to provide meaningful playing time to that girl), then having a boy on the team does not reduce opportunities for girls, and should be allowed. In their current form, the Title IX regulations unnecessarily limit cross-over participation and deny to both sexes the benefits that come when boys and girls are allowed to play together. As long as boys’ participation does not exacerbate existing inequalities in participation, girls’ sports don’t need protection from boys. Good players of either sex raise the level of the game, and playing with boys helps cultivate respect for female athleticism. We ought to get over our antiquated squeamishness about mixed-sex athletics and let the boys play.