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Mar. 18 2010 - 4:49 pm | 1,211 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Boy wants to play girls’ soccer, so nobody gets to play soccer

Constance McMillen, a lesbian girl who wanted to bring a date to the prom and panicked her school into canceling the whole damn thing — you have a straight, male doppelganger in Port Angeles, Wash.

OK, I’ll give you that the fight of Spencer May — or, technically, his parents — to play in a girls’ league because not enough players sign up for the boys’ league is not exactly the modern morality play of homosexuality in America, and the extreme reaction in some corners against it. The ACLU isn’t even involved. However, the reaction to their actions is very similar.

When the ACLU spoke up on McMillen’s desire to bring a female date, in opposition to Itawamba County Agricultural High’s policy of opposite-sex dates only, the school shut down the prom. When May’s parents threatened to sue the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club for not allowing their son to play in a girls’ spring soccer league, the club suspended the league.

In the spirit of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament coverage, here’s a live look-in at the action in Port Angeles.

Here’s what happened, according to the soccer organization:

“The Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club has temporarily postponed its Spring league. The season has not been cancelled at this time, and the club hopes to  resume practices and play soon. The club is currently addressing a very serious allegation of discrimination by the parents of a boy who is unable to play because of low enrollment among the older boys soccer division.

The club decided to postpone the season after the parents of the boy twice disrupted a girls team’s practices and gave the board good reason to believe that further disruptions of practices and games would occur if the club did not agree to the parents’ demands to allow the boy to play on a girls team.

In 2009, the club elected to discontinue co-ed play for most age groups. The club’s experience with co-ed play for children 8 years of age and older was that it did not provide boys and girls the best opportunity to develop their soccer skills and learn a love for the game. The club believes that was and is the right decision.

The boy’s parents were pressuring the club to make decisions quickly, and the reason for the postponement is to give the club the time it needs to address the issue responsibly.

The club does not discriminate against any child who wants to play soccer. The club opened its enrollment to boys and girls, and did not prohibit any age-qualified children from enrolling because of their gender. This is not about a boy being prohibited from playing soccer. It is about not enough older boys signing up to play soccer.”

We are not able to comment further at this time.

The statement was prompted by inquiries from the local newspaper, the Peninsula Daily News. Its gardening columnist is the father complaining and threatening a lawsuit if his son isn’t allowed to play, creating the growing concern of the league by sowing seeds of discontent. The newspaper quotes the soccer association as saying 24 girls and 13 boys signed up for the U14 (14 and under) league for the spring, the former enough to create three eight-player teams, and the latter not enough to form any number of teams. Port Angeles also has fall leagues that are more popular, and the newspaper figures it’s getting edged out by baseball.

However, the May family didn’t sit idly by while Spencer was without soccer. From the Peninsula Daily News:

Spencer May learned that there was a U14 girls team practicing at his own school, Stevens Middle School. He heard about it from one of the girls on the team, his father said.

Spencer May began practicing with the team.

“He was accepted by the girls on the team,” Andrew May said.

At the third practice, the board kicked Spencer off the girls team and offered to refund his registration, his father said.

“Spencer practiced twice, and early in the third practice when the team started running drills, the coach called [the league president], who told me they would refund our registration and Spencer could not practice with the girls,” Andrew May said.

Spencer May’s parents did not accept the refund and insisted that Spencer was a member of that team, the parents wrote in e-mails to the board. …

May’s parents threatened legal action, and demanded that Spencer and all 12 boys who had signed up get to play with the girls. The family cited an expansion of Title IX that took effect in Washington Jan. 1 as the legal basis for their complaint.

I have a prediction for the Mays family — Constance McMillen has a better shot, legally, at going to the Itawamba prom than you son has of playing soccer with the girls. It’s possible Port Angeles Soccer might let your son and others play just to not have to spend the money on a lawsuit, or if they realize that they need your money. But I predict the league would win in court.

The first reason is that the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club isn’t even covered by the Washington law. That specifically states that the discrimination law applies to those leagues run by a city or publicly funded parks and recreation program. While the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club phone number and web site are listed in the city’s parks guide, the club itself is not a public entity.

Courts have been fairly consistent about not making non-public athletic authorities responsible for gender equity, even if the private organization does have some public connections. For example, in a 2006 ruling denying a male gymnast the right to join his high school’s girls’ team — even though there was no boys team — a Wisconsin appeals court denied the request because the lawsuit was against the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which was not a public entity despite its membership being mostly public schools.

Every court hasn’t ruled along those lines. The reason boys play field hockey on girls’ teams in Massachusetts is because of a 1979 court ruling saying they could not be barred. But a Title IX/state law case against a nonpublic athletic entity is no sure thing.

The other problem for the Mays is that courts don’t necessarily, even in the case of public entities, claim discrimination if there is no equivalent male program when there is one for females. One reason is because girls, historically, have had the record of being discriminated against (hence, why Title IX exists), and that maintaining girls’ opportunities is paramount even if boys feel they have been victimized. Another is that courts often look at whether there are, overall, sufficient athletic opportunities for boys, even if they aren’t in the sports they want.

The attorney for the Port Angeles league, should it come to this, could argue fairly effectively that there is already a fall soccer league, so there is ample opportunity for boys to play the sport. Plus, the community has all sorts of sporting opportunities for boys and girls, so even if Spencer can’t play soccer in the spring, he has opportunities. But given the private nature of the soccer league, I doubt the argument well get that far.

It’s not Constance McMillen’s fault that her prom was canceled, and despite the May family being as wrong as McMillen is right, it’s not Spencer May’s fault that the Port Angeles soccer season is on hold. However, unless Port Angeles merely doesn’t want a fight from one vocal set of parents (and assuming no one else would object if the league knuckled under), I would expect to see Constance McMillen in her prom tuxedo sooner than I would Spencer May in his spring Port Angeles soccer kit.


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    About Me

    A youth sports blog written by Bob Cook. He contributes to NBCSports.com, or MSNBC.com, if you prefer. He’s delivered sports commentaries for All Things Considered. For three years he wrote the weekly “Kick Out the Sports!” column for Flak Magazine.

    Most importantly for this blog, Bob is a father of four who is in the throes of being a sports parent and youth coach in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago. He reserves the right to change names to protect the innocent and the extremely, extremely guilty.

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