Brown fighting to play football

Posted: September 15, 2004

All 11-year-old Ashley Brown wants to do is play football for the Catholic Youth Organization team at St. Laurence Parochial School in Upper Darby, Delaware County.

But the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which oversees the CYO sports programs through its Office for Youth and Young Adults, said Ashley cannot play on the school's junior varsity team because she is a girl.

Brown's parents, Ken and Linda, had given their permission for Ashley, a sixth grader, to go out for the team, and she had already signed up when the archdiocese issued its ruling last Wednesday.

"She said she wanted to play a couple of years ago, but we told her we didn't think they would let her play," Linda Brown said. "Before the season started this year, she went with her brother Ken to sign up, and the coaches said OK. I guess they didn't know about the archdiocese rule.

"I don't have any problem with her playing. She's capable at this age level. We encourage the kids to get involved."

Brown has certainly been involved with sports, participating in kickboxing, karate, basketball, swimming and softball, among other activities.

Vincent Amabile, coach of the St. Laurence varsity team, said he wasn't sure what the rules were on Ashley playing when she signed up.

"I had to make a phone call and I was told by my commissioner that she could not play," he said.

Brown, who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 150 pounds, found out she couldn't play when she went to pick up her equipment with her brother. Ken Brown Jr., a seventh grader and member of the varsity team, is four inches shorter and weighs 30 pounds less than Ashley. There are no weight limits in the CYO program.

When Linda Brown contacted the archdiocese about the issue, she said she was told it was an insurance problem. That prompted Ken Brown Sr. to contact attorney Jon Auritt.

Auritt was out of town yesterday, but, according to Meghan Sutherland, a paralegal in his office, a letter was sent to the archdiocese asking why the situation was an insurance issue.

"We received a letter back from Tim Coyne, the archdiocese's lawyer, who said it was not an insurance issue but one of policy," Sutherland said. "We sent another letter on Sept. 8 asking for a policy statement but have not had a reply."

The Office for Youth and Young Adults issued a statement yesterday that Ashley playing would create a safety issue.

"Because of the differences between boys and girls, we don't believe that it would provide a safe playing environment for our athletes. The welfare of the children is our first concern," the statement said.

The archdiocese declined further comment but noted that the CYO handbook spells out age and gender rules for each sport sponsored by the organization. Volleyball, not football, is offered for girls in the fall.

"It's just discrimination against me because of my gender," said Ashley Brown, who did take part in one team practice before the archdiocese said she could not play. The JV team lost its opener on Saturday.

"She's played [volleyball] and found that boring," Linda Brown said. "She's not a star athlete but gives it her best."

Girls have played football at public middle schools in the area. Those schools are under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which has no provision excluding girls. Several girls served as placekickers for high school teams in South Jersey in recent years, and several others competed on high school varsity wrestling teams.

Also, a number of boys have played field hockey, traditionally a girls' sport, at the high school level.

"The PIAA and the national federation have no rules against girls participating in football," said Jodi Good, an assistant executive director of the PIAA. "It's a local school decision."

Archdiocesan schools do not play under National Federation of High Schools rules.

Ashley Brown's interest in football was prompted by watching the St. Laurence team play in the past.

Brown, who can press 200 pounds, said she's thought about trying out for the Drexel Hill Raiders, a club program with weight limits for its team, if she can't play with St. Laurence.

"I don't know the weight limits for the Raiders," said Ashley, who prefers but is not adamant about playing nose guard. "I don't care if I play nose guard. I'll play wherever anybody puts me."

Contact suburban staff writer Don Beideman at 610-701-7613 or

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