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Boys Playing on Girls' Teams Under Fire in Pennsylvania

A nearly 40-year-old court ruling that allowed boys to play on girls' high school sports teams in the '70s is at the center of a new legal battle in Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that concerns about girls potentially losing athletic opportunities and being subject to increased risk of injury has prompted the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to ask for the law to be changed.

"It looks like we are headed toward an evidentiary hearing of some sort," Pittsburgh lawyer Mary Grenen told the paper. Grenen is a potential intervenor in the case on behalf of her daughter, a field hockey player in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel.

Field hockey is the sport that concerns PIAA officials the most - and has for the past several years. As Post-Gazette reporter Kate Giammarise writes:

The case centers on a 1975 Commonwealth Court [in Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System] ruling that declared a PIAA bylaw forbidding girls from practicing or competing against boys in school athletics unconstitutional. At the time, there were few girls-only sports, and the ruling was intended to open up more opportunities for girls in male-dominated athletics.

But, over the years, as more girls' teams were established, the order began to be interpreted so boys could also play on girls' teams if the sport was offered only for girls.

The trend appears to be most prevalent in field hockey. In a survey the PIAA sent over the winter to its 1,470 member schools (742 responded), 38 schools reported boys playing girls' field hockey, 14 reported boys playing girls' volleyball, and eight reported boys playing girls' lacrosse. All told, more than 30 percent of responding schools had a boy playing on a girls' team, according to the survey results, which were submitted to the court.

Grenen said the PIAA hoped to reach a compromise with the Attorney General's Office in light of the tremendous shift in high school sports since the 1970s. The athletic association wants the state to allow it to make a "reasonable bylaw" that would be in line with the federal Title IX law and that would largely keep boys from girls' sports, especially contact sports such as field hockey.

Letting boys play on a girls' field hockey or other team creates a safety risk for young girls more prone to concussions or other injury, and also takes opportunities away from other girls who might then not be able to play, Grenen said.

"We don't want to see girls' sports start going backwards," she said. In April 2012, officials in New York ruled that 13-year-old Keeling Pilaro, who had competed on the Southampton High School field hockey team for the previous two seasons, could no longer participate on the team. Section 11, which oversees high school sports in Suffolk County, stated that Pilaro was just too good and that his participation was causing "a significant adverse effect on some of his opposing female players," said Ed Cinelli, Section 11's executive director. He also added that "the rules state [Pilaro] would be allowed to play if he wasn't the dominant player."

Weeks later and with those rules in mind, Pilaro was reinstated after a closed-door meeting between two dozen officials determined that the boy's exceptional skill did not have a detrimental effect on female players. They compared Pilaro's achievements with those of female field hockey players, determining that his skills and achievements did not exceed those of his peers nor give his team an unfair advantage.

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