Boy can't play because, well, he's a boy

varsity field hockey

August 26, 2008|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

Luke Chopper has been playing field hockey since he was 6 years old, and now that he's a freshman at River Hill, he would like to play for the Hawks' team.

Howard County's policy, however, does not allow a boy to play on a girls field hockey team, so Chopper, who plays for a coed club team, accepted a role as Hawks manager, thinking he could practice with the team. When practice started 10 days ago, he found out that he could not scrimmage with the girls and that he could do only a few stickwork drills.

His mother, Lori McKay, said she is considering legal action to allow her son to play.

McKay said River Hill coach Shelly Chamness had made no promises about participation but they were surprised that Chopper could not participate in any way that would bring one-on-one contact with other players.

"For him, that was a big hit," McKay said, "because the whole point to be up there was to have a stick in his hand. It was OK not to play in the games, but now he can't fully participate in practices.

"I think now he's very frustrated," she said. "The whole thing reached a point where I just feel like this doesn't seem fair. Here's a child who's played his whole life, who loves the game, who's just out there to have a good time and he can't because, no matter how you slice it or dice it, it's because he's a boy."

Mike Williams, the coordinator of athletics for Howard County Public Schools, said Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, was an issue.

"When we looked at what we're trying to do to comply with Title IX, it was a situation that would have definitely led us toward noncompliance. That was just one issue. There are safety issues along with it," Williams said.

Chopper, 14, said he just wants to play.

"I've been playing since I was about 6, and I kind of want to keep it going. I've been playing for so long, and not being allowed to play makes no sense," said Chopper, who learned the sport at the Mater Amoris Montessori School in Ashton and will play for a boys team at the U.S. Field Hockey Association's national tournament Thanksgiving weekend in California.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said the decision whether to allow boys to play on a girls team is left up to officials in each county, but boys cannot play in regional and state field hockey playoffs.

The state policy was contested in federal court in 1990 by a boy who wanted to play field hockey in Cecil County, and the court sided with the MPSSAA, Sparks said.

In 2003, brothers Josh and Jarrad Davis played for Meade's field hockey team, but they were not allowed to play in postseason or against teams from other jurisdictions that did not allow boys to play. Since then, Anne Arundel County has decided not to allow boys to play field hockey.

The MPSSAA has an official equal-opportunity provision in its operational guidelines, but it is geared toward more inclusion for girls.

McKay questioned why girls are allowed to wrestle or play on other boys teams when there is no comparable girls team.

"You cannot fix discrimination by discriminating," McKay said. "What kind of message are you sending to these kids? They don't understand this. You can explain Title IX to them, but when you look at it in reality, it's everybody pointing at you and saying you can't play because you're a guy."

Williams said: "All of us understand the boy loves the sport and it is a big sport for men in other parts of the world, but we certainly don't have the interest in this county to start a men's side, No. 1 because of budgetary implications and No. 2 because of Title IX. If we do something for boys, we have to do something else for girls."

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