State court expected to rule on boys in girls sports

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HARRISBURG -- A dispute revolving around a decades-old law that allows boys to play on girls high school sports teams appears to be headed to court.

Attorneys representing the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association -- which says it would like to see the law changed to make sure girls do not lose athletic opportunities and for safety reasons -- and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office met Friday afternoon in Commonwealth Court.

"It looks like we are headed toward an evidentiary hearing of some sort," said Pittsburgh attorney Mary Grenen, following the status conference between the two sides. Ms. Grenen is a potential intervenor in the case on behalf of her daughter, a Fox Chapel field hockey player.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined to comment on the case Friday and referred questions to court filings.

The case centers on a 1975 Commonwealth Court ruling that declared a PIAA bylaw forbidding girls from practicing or competing against boys in school athletics unconstitutional. At the time, there were few girls-only sports and the ruling was intended to open up more opportunities for girls in male-dominated athletics.

But, over the years, as more girls teams were created, the order began to be interpreted so that boys could also play on girls teams if the sport was offered only for girls -- the opposite effect of the order's original intent.

Boys playing on girls teams appears to be most prevalent in field hockey. In a survey sent by the PIAA this winter to its 1,470 member schools (742 responded), 38 schools reported boys playing girls field hockey, 14 reported boys playing girls volleyball, eight reported boys playing girls lacrosse, five reported boys playing girls soccer and one each reported boys playing girls swimming and girls tennis. An additional 163 schools reported that boys had played on girls teams but failed to identify the sport. All told, more than 30 percent of responding schools had a boy playing on a girls team, according to the survey results, which were submitted to the court.

Ms. Grenen said the PIAA was hoping to reach a compromise with the AG's office in light of the tremendous shift in high school sports since the 1970s. The state should allow the athletic association to make a "reasonable bylaw" that would be in line with the federal Title IX law and largely keep boys from girls sports, especially contact sports like field hockey, she said.

Letting boys play on a girls field hockey or other team creates a safety risk for young girls more prone to concussions or other injury, and also takes opportunities away from other girls who might then not be able to play, said Ms. Grenen.

"We don't want to see girls sports start going backwards," she said Friday.

state - hsother

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.


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