The Associate Press (AP) reports in The Boston Herald that Keeling Pilaro is fighting to remain on a New York state high school girls’ field hockey team. After two years as a member of the Southampton High School girls’ team, Pilaro was told he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with, and against, girls next season.
Pilaro is appealing the decision by the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk County, and the lawyer for his family suggests a court battle could ensue if the ball doesn’t bounce Pilaro’s way. An appeals committee said it looked only at his skills, not size or strength, when upholding the decision to keep him off the field. That raises a question of discrimination.
Pilaro’s dispute with the governing body appears to be a rare example of a young man seeking to take advantage of Title IX, a 40-year-old law enacted to provide women equal access to athletic opportunities. There are no boys’ high school field hockey teams anywhere on Long Island or in most of the country, for that matter.
Southampton school administrators agree, but they do not have the final say. “The decision to support him represents our commitment to provide meaningful opportunities to each of our students,” Superintendent Dr. J. Richard Boyes said. “Our community, including the girls on our field hockey team, embraced Keeling Pilaro and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
The problem, according to Edward Cinelli, the director of the organization that oversees high school athletics in Suffolk County, is that state education law won’t allow it. He cited a provision that says administrators are permitted to bar boys from girls’ teams if a boy’s participation “would have a significant adverse effect” on a girl’s opportunity to participate in interscholastic competition in that sport. Officials say Pilaro’s skills are superior to the girls he plays against, creating an unfair advantage.
After a year on the junior varsity and a second season with the varsity, the mixed-competition committee in March 2012 denied Pilaro permission to play next fall. An April 2012 decision by the panel’s appeals committee affirmed the original decision, and said it did not consider his size and strength as potential criteria for being disqualified. “Stick-play, quickness and agility are the ingredients of superior play and those are the characteristics of Keeling Pilaro relative to those girls with and against whom he participated,” the committee wrote.
According to Joanna Grossman, a Hofstra University law professor, Pilaro’s chances of winning on a Title IX argument are slim, because the law was established to benefit those who claim their opportunities to compete are underrepresented. Most of the time that favors women or girls, because schools provide more opportunities for boys to play athletics. However, Grossman believes Pilaro could successfully argue that he is the victim of discrimination because officials already granted him permission to play and may now be holding him to a higher standard than girls.
Another appeals hearing is set for May 15, 2012.
Source: The Boston Herald, 5/7/12, By AP
[Editor's Note: As Professor Grossman points out, Title IX disputes overwhelmingly involve female student-athletes seeking to remedy unequal treatment. For example, in February 2012, Legal Clips summarized a California federal district court decision in Ollier v. Sweetwater High Sch. Dist., which held that a school district violated the Title IX rights of a class of female student-athletes because of the unequal treatment and benefits afforded the girls’ softball program in comparison to those of the boys’ baseball program.
However, in July 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the USA Today, which reported that the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) planned to file suit on behalf of the American Sports Council, previously known as the College Sports Council, an advocacy group for men’s and boys’ sports. According to PLF, the suit planned to name the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as a defendant, alleging that ED’s Title IX enforcement in high school athletics programs is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause.]