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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

 

FRANKLIN — The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association golf committee spent much of its meeting Thursday at the organization's headquarters trying to figure out a way to avoid a recurrence of last fall when Lunenburg junior Emily Nash carded the lowest score in the Central Mass. Division 3 boys' golf tournament, but wasn't awarded the medalist trophy or allowed to advance to the state tournament because she had been ruled ineligible.

The ruling was widely criticized across the nation by those who felt Nash had been discriminated against because she was a girl playing in a boys' tournament.

Among those up in arms was LPGA Tour golfer Brittany Altomare, who had been allowed to advance to the state tournament as a member of the Shrewsbury High boys' golf team a decade ago.

MIAA golf committee chairman David Keir, athletic director at Smith Academy in Hatfield, said he understood the reasons behind the uproar.

"At the time," he said, "we

followed the rules that were written in the format and the rules that were written in the handbook for the MIAA. Whether those rules were right or not, I don't know, but we followed them, and that didn't sit well with people."

The golf committee, composed of high school principals, vice principals and athletic directors from throughout the state, discussed ways to prevent the same situation from occurring again next fall, when Nash will be a senior.

Agawam High's Angela Garvin also will be a senior after she finished second in the Western Mass. Division 1 boys' tournament last fall, but wasn't allowed to advance to the state tournament as an individual.

An MIAA rule prohibits girls from competing as individuals in the fall in the boys' sectional and state golf tournaments, because they can compete in the girls' sectional and state golf tournaments in the spring. So Nash's performance counted only toward her team score in the Central Mass. Division 3 boys' tournament, and she didn't advance to the state tournament because her team didn't.

However, Nash was allowed to compete with the Lunenburg High boys' team in the CMass Division 3 boys' tournament, because Lunenburg doesn't field a girls' team in the spring.

Boys who fail to qualify as individuals for state golf tournaments can compete if their teams qualify, but their scores aren't considered toward individual honors.

The golf committee tabled a motion to create separate state golf tournaments for individuals and for teams each spring and fall. Only the medalists in each of the 14 sectional boys' tournaments would be eligible to compete in the individual state tournaments each fall. Under that format, Nash would have been declared the medalist and allowed to advance to the state tournament.

"I'm not so sure that there is a solution that is going to satisfy everyone," Keir said, "but we're going to try to find the best solution that we can find that will satisfy the most people. I hope we find one that will satisfy everybody."

A subcommittee was formed to explore the motion and report to the golf committee at its next scheduled meeting here at 10 a.m. on June 12.

Peter Jones, athletic director at Advanced Math And Science Academy Charter School in Marlboro, will be on the subcommittee.

"We need to put in work to make sure that things are equitable across the board," Jones said, "and that we're doing the right thing for all the student-athletes who participate in golf. I don't know if necessarily that we got anything wrong, but it certainly opened a lot of peoples' eyes as to how we were doing things, and we're going to take a look at it."

"The format," Keir said, "will be most likely changed to something that's more equitable than what it was this past fall."

In the meantime, the sectional and state girls' golf tournaments will not be changed this spring.

The committee also considered playing boys' and girls' golf in the same season, holding separate individual tournaments open to far more golfers, doing away with the individual aspect of the tournaments altogether, and keeping the current rules intact, but awarding separate prizes to the medalists if they weren't eligible for the individual awards.

Keir is also a member of a blue-ribbon task force that includes high school administrators and Western New England University law professor Erin Buzuvis, director of the school's Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies, and which met in December to explore gender equity issues for all MIAA sports. In a memo to the golf committee, Buzuvis wrote that allowing girls to compete in the sectional and state tournament in both the spring and fall was "defensible," but would diminish the importance of the girls' spring tournaments.

Keir said giving girls the choice of playing in either the girls' or boys' sectional golf tournaments was suggested in December.

"It doesn't solve the whole problem across the board," Keir said, "but it might move us in the right direction."

Playing from the same tees as the boys, Nash posted a 3-over-par 75 at Blissful Meadows Golf Course in Uxbridge last October to defeat runner-up Nico Ciolino of AMSA by four strokes. After Ciolino was declared the medalist, he offered to give Nash the first-place trophy, but she declined to accept it. The MIAA later presented Nash and Ciolino with sportsmanship awards.

The rule prohibiting girls was added after the 2015 and before the 2016 fall seasons, according to the MIAA Boys' Fall Golf Tournament information sheets. Nash said she competed as an individual in the Central Mass. tournament as an eighth-grader even though her team didn't qualify.

In 2008, Altomare tied for fourth place in the Central Mass. Division 1 boys' golf tournament and tied for 12th in the state tournament.

Some golf committee members said future controversy could be avoided by making it clear that individual and team competitions were separate contests held during the same tournaments at the sectionals and state levels, but Carolyn O'Donnell, MIAA officials' representative and a 10-year member of the golf committee, disagreed.

"The world is not going to understand that," O'Donnell told her fellow committee members, "and I don't want to be embarrassed again."

O'Donnell said she thought all competitors in each event should be eligible for medalist honors.

Separate individual and team golf tournaments at the sectional and state levels ceased many years ago because of the expense, lack of available courses and time spent away from school by the participating students, according to the committee.

The blue-ribbon task force will meet at MIAA headquarters on Friday and again in April and May before reporting its findings to the MIAA Board of Directors on May 23. Keir said the task force could make some recommendations to the golf committee.

Keir said the MIAA Board of Directors could change the handbook at any time.

Contact Bill Doyle at william.doyle@telegram.com Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15.

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