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Remember last year when a male high school wrestler forfeited a round in the state championships rather than wrestle a girl?  This time it’s a high school baseball team in Phoenix forfeiting the championship because their opponent’s second baseman is a girl. In both cases, religious beliefs were cited as the reason.

Who is at the center of this latest controversy? Freshman Paige Sultzbach, who played softball and volleyball in junior high, tried out for the Mesa Preparatory Academy baseball team because there wasn’t a varsity softball team.  She’s a talented player but isn’t bigger, better or more intimidating than any of her teammates. In fact she’s pretty much an average 15-year-old girl.

The Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship baseball game was scheduled to be played Thursday night between Mesa Prep and Our Lady of Sorrows Academy. But Our Lady of Sorrows said its boys would not compete against a team with a girl and forfeited the game – and the state title – to Mesa Prep.

“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, according to CNN affiliate KTVK.

“Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we choose not to place them in an athletic competition where proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty,” the statement continued. “Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls.”

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X which claims to run 88 schools worldwide. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s. According to a spokesman, the school is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and Pope Benedict XVI has declared that the society has no canonical status.

Sultzbach’s mother, Pamela Sultzbach, believes her daughter and the Mesa Prep Monsoons were done a disservice.

“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,” Pamela Sultzbach told the Arizona Republic.

“I respect their views, but it’s a bit out of the 18th century,” Amy Arnold, Mesa Prep’s athletic director, told the Republic.

Even the 18th century was more tolerant than Our Lady of Sorrows. If their adolescent boys don’t know the difference between playing sports and hooking up, maybe their educational methods should be revisited.

The Mary Sue writes:  “It’s almost sounds like telling women to cover up so men don’t grope them. No, just don’t grope them. Same thing here – just play sports.”

Mesa Prep and Our Lady of Sorrows played twice during the regular season, but Sultzbach sat out, as they were away games  and she felt a need to respect the rules of the home team. The final, however, was scheduled at Phoenix College on a neutral field and Sultzbach wanted to play.

Despite being hailed as state champions, Pamela Sultzbach believes Mesa Prep missed something.

“This team has worked so hard,” she said. “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.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, said the school’s decision to forfeit doesn’t aid its own students.

“In real life, these boys are going to be competing against the girls for jobs, for positions in graduate programs or in trade schools,” Hogshead-Makar said. “In every other area of their life, they are going to be competing side by side.”

What do you think? Were the boys right to forfeit?

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