Pa. sports-gender dispute appears headed to court

Posted: May 05, 2013

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

Lawyers representing the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association - which says it would like the law changed to make sure girls do not lose athletic opportunities and for safety reasons - and 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," Pittsburgh lawyer Mary Grenen said after the status conference between the two sides. Grenen is a potential intervenor in the case on behalf of her daughter, a field hockey player in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel.

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 established, the order began to be interpreted so boys could also play on girls' teams if the sport was offered only for girls.

The trend appears to be most prevalent in field hockey. In a survey the PIAA sent over the winter to its 1,470 member schools (742 responded), 38 schools reported boys playing girls' field hockey, 14 reported boys playing girls' volleyball, and eight reported boys playing girls' lacrosse. 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.

Grenen said the PIAA hoped to reach a compromise with the Attorney General's Office in light of the tremendous shift in high school sports since the 1970s. The athletic association wants the state to allow it to make a "reasonable bylaw" that would be in line with the federal Title IX law and that would largely keep boys from girls' sports, especially contact sports such as field hockey.

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, Grenen said.

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

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