Thursday night's Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship baseball game was over before it began. Mesa Preparatory Academy was given the title after Our Lady of Sorrows Academy chose to forfeit rather than face Mesa Prep's second baseman - Paige Sultzbach. Because Mesa Prep does not offer a softball team, Sultzbach, a freshman, has played on the boy's baseball team all season.
"As a Catholic school, we promote the ideal of forming and educating boys and girls separately during the adolescent years, especially in physical education," Our Lady of Sorrows said in a statement, going on to explain their stance against coed sports teams. The school has made a point of adhering to its policy, pulling out of a flag football tournament last October after learning that competing teams included girls.
"I respect their views, but it's a bit out of the 18th century," Mesa Prep athletic director Amy Arnold told The Arizona Republic. (Arnold, by the way, also holds the distinction of being the only female currently coaching a boys' high-school football team in Arizona.) Though many disagree with it, Our Lady of Sorrows' policy is not discriminatory under Title IX.
The two teams had met twice before the state championship, each time on Our Lady of Sorrows Academy's home field, and each time Sultzbach sat on the bench out of respect for the school's policy. Mesa Prep won both games as part of an undefeated season, and neither Sultzbach nor her team felt that she should be forced to sit out the championship.
While differences in physical ability and strength and a concern for safety are often cited in the argument to keep boys off girls' teams and vice versa, Sultzbach's mother, Pamela, feels it wasn't the motivation for Our Lady of Sorrow's decision, telling The Republic, "This is not a contact sport. It shouldn't be an issue. It wasn't that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it's that (they believe) that a girl's place is not on a field."
Despite ending the season with a perfect record and state championship, Sultzbach and her teammates still feel a sting of disappointment knowing their record was not fully earned. "This team has worked so hard," Sultzbach's mother went on to say. "They're undefeated. They had one game left. At our school, we're taught that when you start something you complete it, and they weren't done."