Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. But when girls and boys come out to play, it's the adults who make matters complicated. Commonwealth Court has a chance to correct a long-ago decision that contributed to an unusual problem.
It scarcely makes sense, but high school boys can play on girls' sports teams in Pennsylvania if the sport is offered only for girls. The best example is field hockey, a game that is popular for males in other countries but not in the United States.
A survey sent by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to 1,470 member schools (and to which half the schools responded) found that 38 schools had boys playing on girls' field hockey teams.
Fourteen schools reported boys on girls' volleyball teams, eight had boys playing girls' lacrosse and five had boys playing girls' soccer; boys were also playing on girls' teams in a few other sports. An additional 163 schools had boys on unspecified girls' sports teams. In total, more than 30 percent of the responding schools had a boy playing on a girls' team.
This is a problem in a couple of ways. First, boys will be boys -- they tend to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive than many of the girls they play and in physical sports that brings the risk of serious injury. Second, it deprives girls of a chance to play -- and that not only is the opposite of how it was supposed to be but also subverts the intent of Title IX, the great enabler of women's sports.
In 1975, Commonwealth Court ruled that a PIAA bylaw forbidding girls from practicing or competing against boys was unconstitutional. In that era, girls had few opportunities to play sports and the rule was supposed to help them. But later, it was interpreted to mean that boys could also play on girls' teams in some circumstances -- and never mind that a boy on a girls' team has a natural advantage but a girl on a boys' team is usually at a natural disadvantage.
This is a case in which the ability to make sensible distinctions has been lost. Anyone unaware of the absurdity should go to a field hockey game and see hulking boys running around in kilts, a skirt by any other name.
The PIAA would like to see the law changed, as it should be, but a meeting with Attorney General Kathleen Kane last week was no help.
Commonwealth Court needs to hold a hearing and see what is obvious: Rigid gender blindness should not mean putting girl athletes at risk and denying them the chance to play because boys are on the team. Let girls be girls.