Title IX case? Boy banned as 'too good' for girls' field hockey team

After two years on a girls' field hockey team in New York, 13-year old boy is kicked off for having an 'unfair advantage.'  The boy is appealing the decision.

(AP Photo/Andrew Pilaro)
Keeling Pilaro, 13, left, plays on the East End Field Hockey club in New York. Pilaro has been told that after two years as a member of the Southampton High School girls' team, he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with, and against, girls next season. There are no boys' field hockey teams on Long Island.

He's too good, and that's too bad.

A 13-year-old boy who played field hockey growing up in Ireland has been told that after two years as a member of his US school's girls' team, he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with girls next season.

Keeling Pilaro, whose 10 goals and eight assists earned him all-conference honors on New York's Long Island — he was the only boy in any league — is appealing the decision, and a lawyer for his family suggests a court battle could ensue.

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An appeals committee said it looked only at his skills, not size or strength, when upholding the decision to keep him off the field. That raises a question of discrimination.

Keeling's fight appears to be a rare example of a man seeking to take advantage of Title IX, a 40-year-old law enacted to provide women equal access to athletic opportunities. There are no boys' high school field hockey teams anywhere on Long Island, or in most of the country.

"It's really annoying," the boy said in a recent interview. "I don't really care if I'm on a girls' team or a boys' team, I just want to play."

Southampton school administrators agree, but they don't have the final say.

Edward Cinelli, the director of the organization that oversees high school athletics in Suffolk County, cited a provision in state education law that says administrators are permitted to bar boys from girls' teams if a boy's participation "would have a significant adverse effect" on a girl's opportunity to participate in interschool competition in that sport.

Officials say Keeling's skills are superior to the girls he plays against, creating an unfair advantage.

Family attorney Frank Scagluso argued that judging the boy's stick play is subjective, and that many girls playing in Suffolk County have superior skills.

In order to play with the girls, Keeling had to get permission from Suffolk's mixed-competition committee, which screens players who want to compete on teams of the opposite sex. Cinelli says there have been occasions where girls have been approved to play football, wrestle or compete in other traditional boys sports, but Keeling is the first in his memory to play alongside girls.

After a year on the junior varsity and a second season with the varsity, the committee in March denied Keeling permission to play next season. The panel's appeals committee in April affirmed the original decision.

Another appeal hearing is set for May 15.

Keeling's chances of winning on a Title IX argument are slim, said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Hofstra University, because the law was established to benefit those who claim their opportunities to compete are underrepresented. Most of the time that favors women or girls, because schools provide more opportunities for boys to play athletics.

But, she said, he could successfully argue that he is the victim of discrimination because officials already granted him permission to play and may now be holding him to a higher standard than girls.

The United States is one of the rare places in the world where boys do not regularly play field hockey, said Chris Clements, the national men's coach for USA Field Hockey.

He said Keeling's age and skill sets should not disqualify him from playing with the girls next season.

"Obviously at some stage we do need to separate them in terms of their speed and skill," Clements said. He didn't think Keeling's participation on a girls' team at his age would be detrimental.

" I would say right now he fits in just fine," Clements said. "I'd say right now the girls are just as fast and just as strong. He stands out naturally because he's a boy. He just looks different."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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