Is a Male Entitled to Play on a Female Field Hockey Team?

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[author: James G. Ryan]

Recently, Cynthia Augello, an Associate at Cullen and Dykman LLP was featured on CBS and asked about the situation of Keeling Pilaro, a 13-year-old boy who played on the Southampton School District’s all female field-hockey team. In order to play on the all female varsity team, Pilaro sought permission from Suffolk County’s Mixed-Competition Committee, which evaluates cases involving athletes who want to play on teams of the opposite sex. While Pilaro was originally allowed to play on the female team for two years, the Committee recently reversed its decision and barred Pilaro from playing on the field hockey team. This decision was unsurprisingly met with much controversy.

According to the Committee’s handbook, “the purpose of the Mixed Competition Committee is to determine on an individual basis whether or not participation by a particular male student on a sport team organized for females in a district would have a significant adverse effect upon the opportunity of females to participate successfully in interschool competition in that sport.” In justifying its decision to bar Pilaro’s participation, the Committee stated that “Pilaro had gotten too good” and because of his increased aptitude and superiority as compared to female field hockey players, these female players were being denied opportunities.  Michele Fischer, a coach in Pittsburg agreed with the decision, and stated that field hockey is “a girls’ sport, they work very hard at their skills, they work very hard at training, and I don’t think it’s right that a boy can just come in and take it.”

Conversely, Pilaro, his parents, and the Southampton School District, were extremely disappointed by the Committee’s decision. Southampton High School Athletic Director Darren Phillips stated “the girls on the team see him as a little brother, and they appreciate what he brings to the team.” Opponents of the Committee’s decision also cite federal law in asserting that the Committee’s decision violates Pilaro’s rights. Title IX is a federal law that aims to prevent sex discrimination in school athletics. It applies to a school district if any part of that school district receives federal funding. As discussed in an earlier blog post written by Ms. Augello, there are competing views as to whether Title IX has resulted in increased opportunities for females and, if so, whether it has done so at the expense of male athletes. Regardless of such, Title IX does protect student athletes in these types of situations and the Pilaro family publically stated that it considered filing a federal civil rights suit against the Committee prior to it reversing his decision.

Last Tuesday, after the Committee heard an appeal from Pilaro’s school, the Committee again reversed itself and ruled that Keeling Pilaro will be permitted to play on the female varsity team at Southampton High School for at least one more season. When asked for comment, Pilaro stated that when he heard the news of him being allowed to play, he was “jumping up and down; I was so excited when I heard.”  If your institution has questions or concerns about this topic and you would like further information, please email Jim Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or call him at (516) 357 – 3750. A special thanks to Hayley Dryer, a third-year law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, for helping with this post.

This entry was written by James G. Ryan,