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There Is No Girl or Boy In The Word Team

As the mother of a little girl who currently plays baseball on a boys team, I was extremely upset and disappointed by the story of Paige Sultzbach. She plays second base for Mesa Preparatory Academy's baseball team and is the reason they were unable to compete in the final championship game. The key word being the pronoun, "she." That's what caused the trouble--that three letter word. You see, because those three letters didn't equal the amount of letters in the word "he," there was an issue. That seems silly, doesn't it? But it might as well be the reason they gave which seems just as inane and unfair.

Ultimately, Paige's team did not participate because of the opposing team's religious doctrine which does not allow for co-ed sports. And, somehow, their religious belief trumped the legal right for her to be on a baseball diamond with the boys. According to Title IX, Paige is entitled to play on a boys team because there was no equivalent softball team for girls at her school. As a result, legally, she was able to try out for the boys' team and was deemed good enough to compete and did.

This was of no consequence to Our Lady of Sorrows Academy, which follows the doctrine of a conservative sect within the Catholic Church. They made this statement on behalf of their decision to forfeit the championship:

"This decision is pursuant to school policy which rules out participation in co-ed sports.

This policy is consistent with the traditional approach to education. 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 school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls. 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."

As a woman, this is difficult for me to absorb. For one thing, does anyone else believe that the word "respect" here is being misused? Here is the definition of respect: Esteem for a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability. I'm sorry, but Paige's "sense of worth" and "personal ability" were not being held in any amount of esteem by Our Lady of Sorrows. Instead, she was viewed as less-than, as too fragile and delicate to cross the boundary of home plate (although I'm sure it would have been okay for her to clean home plate). Furthermore, the parochial school contradicts itself when it says that they are teaching boys "to treat ladies with deference." Treating ladies with deference would mean that they actually "defer" judgment to--clearly, this was not the case. According to Hugo Schwyzer in his article, "When Manning Up Involves Pushing Women Out," this denial of female athletes competing alongside the boys can be attributed to "the longing of too many young men for all-male spaces, in which they don't have to compete with women as equals." Perhaps Our Lady of Sorrows does not, on the surface, believe that they are simply afraid to lose to a girl, but, from a psychoanalytical standpoint, I'm sure there is some truth to this.

There are some who actually defended Our Lady of Sorrows' decision saying that, at the very least, they stood up for what they believed in by upholding their principles; however, I see things differently. Don't get me wrong--what Our Lady of Sorrows does on its own campus, within its own policies specific to their student body and their parents, is their own business (I don't think it shocks anyone to know that a Catholic institution is sexist). Where our opinions diverge is at the point when making that decision affects numerous others who do not have the same belief. If they opt to not have girls on their boys teams, so be it. But why should they be able to penalize a team outside of their school that does not hold the same belief? 

I also wonder what Our Lady of Sorrows' baseball team took away from this. And how will it affect the way those boys view girls and women? In the end, do they have any idea of what it takes for a girl to be on a boys team? Do they understand that it's not just about proving that girls can compete at the same level as the boys, but, from the girl's perspective, it involves the anxiety of being psychologically and socially accepted? Paige herself said that she went as far as to tell her coach to use the term "guys" when addressing the team--that he didn't need to recognize her separately as a "girl." What does that say about her state of mind that she felt she had to deny her sex to fit in?

I'm sure these are questions that Our Lady of Sorrows would prefer never get asked or answered. Obviously, they didn't care that their decision hurt not just Paige, but every boy on both teams who put their heart and soul into reaching the championship. In the end, Paige's team did win the title, but there was no glory in it as it came by forfeiture. Nobody "won." Personally, I think Mesa would have whooped Our Lady of Sorrows butts--indeed, they had already beaten them twice in the regular season. In those games, Paige sat out as a show of respect for their rules. It's just too bad they couldn't have shown her the same respect.




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