Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Cao from New Jersey made the Hillsborough High School girls field hockey team. He was elated but was told a short time later he could not participate. The state’s governing body for high school athletics nixed the idea and said there would be no boys allowed. This despite the fact that hundreds of boys are playing the sport for their high schools in surrounding states.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 308 boys played on girl’s field hockey teams during the 2009-2010 school year from California to Vermont.
Men’s field hockey is wildly popular overseas. Countries such as Holland, Germany, England, India and Pakistan have dominant men’s national programs and players start learning the game as young boys. The women’s game is more popular in the U.S. and played at the high school, club and collegiate level primarily on the east coast.
In not allowing Cao to play, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association referred to their constitution which states “males shall be excluded from female athletic teams although there are no teams for boys in the same sport.”, The governing board believes letting boys play on girls teams could eliminate opportunities for female athletes, . Title IX, however, does permit girls to play on boys teams — including contact sports such as wrestling or hockey — if there’s no team for girls.
Why the double standard? Despite concerns that boys will overpower a girl’s team, past court rulings are based not on “power,” but about ensuring opportunities for underrepresented girls and women.
Laura Pappano, co-author of “Playing With the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal,” played field hockey in high school and at Yale. She writes on her blog Fair Game News,
While many people seem to believe that the moment a male steps onto a field hockey field that his superhero-like strength will make the girls melt, reality is that field hockey remains a game of skill and finesse. Sure, hitting the ball well matters — but if you hit it too hard, your teammate can’t get it before it rolls out of bounds.
New Jersey Star Ledger writer Julie O’Connor published a Q&A with Pappano about why she believes it would be good for the girls on this team, and female athletes in general, to let Cao play. She responds:
When we think “female athlete” and “male athlete,” we come up with these prototypes of the football lineman and the female gymnast. Those do exist, but women and men come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of times it’s the skill, not the brute size of someone, that really makes a difference — especially at the high school level or younger.
On a different but somewhat related note, last year there was controversy over the decision to allow a transgender male to play on the George Washington women’s basketball team. Kye Alums (formerly Kay) wanted to be identified as a male, though he said he wouldn’t begin any medical transition until he graduates in order to preserve his collegiate eligibility. Where is the line? Is this case any more confusing than whether or not to allow a guy to play on a girl’s high school team?
Pappano concluded on her own blog:
When we find ways for girls and boys of comparable skill levels to play together, everyone wins. High school field hockey seems a perfect venue to try. After all, when these players get to college, many club teams are — yes, gasp! – coed.
Remember in gym class when two captains were chosen by the coach to alternately pick teammates? Basically the best players – regardless of gender – were drafted first and the ones who were the least athletically inclined were picked last (providing a very special type of humiliation). I’m going to address this practice in another post but in the meantime, do you think boys and girls should play together on the same sports teams?