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Gender issue in prep sports heats up in Pennsylvania

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state judge has declined to intervene in the growing issue of boys playing sports traditionally reserved for girls, saying a previous court ruling does not necessarily prohibit the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association from banning the practice.

Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson on Tuesday turned down a request by the PIAA to modify a landmark 1975 state court ruling that required schools to let girls play on boys’ teams.

“If PIAA, as the primary policymaking body for interscholastic competition in the Commonwealth, believes it is appropriate to take action in this area, then it should take the first step into the breach and create a policy,” Brobson wrote.

“Only then, if that policy is challenged in a court of law, may its constitutionality be evaluated.”

A lawyer for the PIAA, which has about 1,400 member schools and some 350,000 student participants, said the organization’s board would likely put the topic on its October meeting agenda. If a new policy is adopted, it would not take effect for at least a year.

PIAA general counsel Alan Boynton said the organization was “pretty satisfied” with Brobson’s ruling. “It wasn’t everything we wanted, but it gives the PIAA the option of doing what it thinks is appropriate,” he said.

Boynton said some schools do ban boys on girls’ teams, while others do not. He said member schools have been pressuring the PIAA to address the problem. The organization does not plan to change the ability of girls to play on boys’ teams.

A Pittsburgh couple, lawyers Mary and James Grenen, sought to have the 1975 case reopened last year after seeing what occurred in the high school field hockey games involving their daughters. Field hockey and volleyball are seeing the most boys competing on girls’ teams, but it has also occurred in swimming, soccer and tennis.

Boynton said he has heard one high school’s girls’ volleyball team expects to have six boys on its roster this fall. Nets in girls’ volleyball are lower than in boys’ volleyball.

The Grenens wrote in a May filing that the increasing numbers of boys on girls’ teams have made a mockery of some high school sports.

“The presence of boys competing on all girls teams has caused other students to show up as spectators and mockingly cheer them on – thus rendering the entire game a joke – except that it is not a joke to the girl who is sitting on the bench, not playing, not getting a varsity letter, or whose team is losing because of the boys playing on the opposing team,” they wrote.

The attorney general’s office has repeatedly argued that boys should be allowed to play on girls’ teams, saying in an April filing that the state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment requires it.

“The alleged sex differences and risk of injury which the Grenens and the PIAA have identified as a basis for modifying the (1975) injunction ignores the purpose of the ERA, and additionally, rely on and perpetuate gender stereotypes,” wrote Senior Deputy Attorney General Sarah C. Yeager.

Mary Grenen said Wednesday that the Olympics, the NCAA and most other states’ scholastic sports organizations separate competition by gender.

The PIAA has said in court filings that the increasing numbers of boys on girls’ teams has skewed the competitive balance and raised safety issues.

The organization said boys tended to outperform girls as a class in competitive sports.

A survey conducted this year, to which about half the PIAA schools responded, indicated about three in five allow boys to play on girls’ teams.

Thirty-eight schools said boys had played field hockey, and they reported 13 injuries.

Fourteen schools said boys played girls’ volleyball, eight said boys played girls’ lacrosse, five said boys played girls’ soccer and one had a boy on the girls’ swim team and one on the girls’ tennis team.

By comparison, 104 schools said girls had played football, 112 said they wrestled and 34 said they played boys’ soccer.


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