Basketball team warned not to show up with girl players did, showed unity
For several years, a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team in New Jersey had included a pair of girls. Recently, however, the squad of fifth-graders was presented with a difficult choice: Drop the girls to obey archdiocese rules, or give up playing for the rest of the season.
The team's decision was unanimous. It was also courageous and inspiring.
Team's Bond Is Strong
Before a game last week, the youngsters from St. John the Apostle decided to skip their final two games, plus the postseason, rather than play without two longtime teammates. "It's not fair that we get to move on but they can't," one of the boys said.
"It has a big impact on me because it shows that they care," one of the girls said. "I'm part of them just as they're part of me, and they don't want to break that bond, just like I don't want to break that bond."
The archdiocese's rules — which one of the girls called "ridiculous" — should have prevented the team from ever having girls on it, the children were told by the league's director about two weeks ago. Because they used "illegal" players, it meant that the squad's record that season was erased.
The Vote Was Unanimous
Despite the warning, the whole St. John's team showed up for Friday's game against St. Bartholomew the Apostle, causing the tip-off to be delayed as parents and coaches tried to figure out how to proceed. Eventually, a parent put the question to the fifth-graders: "Is your decision to play the game without the two young ladies on the team, or do you want to stay as a team as you have played all season, with the girls on the team?"
The children were asked to vote with a show of hands, and all 11 went up in favor of staying "as a team."
A mother of one of the girls, who is also a coach on the team, reminded the squad that "this would be the end" of its season, including the playoffs. "It doesn't matter," one boy said.
Rules Are Rules, Usually
After the St. Bart's team left the gym, with some parents of those players expressing regret about the situation, St. John's players split into two sides — girls included. They proceeded to play a game that was meaningless in terms of the league's standings but filled with significance for all involved.
"These kids are doing the right thing," said a parent, who added that she was feeling "pure pride" in their decision. "We don't have to tell them what to do — they just know. It's amazing."
A spokesman for the archdiocese said the rules specify that girls and boys cannot play on the same team and that the St. John athletic director admitted he made a mistake by permitting the two girls to join the squad several years ago. The cardinal of the archdiocese, responding to parents of the players, initially agreed that the girls should be allowed to finish out the season. Later, he reversed that decision for what the archdiocese said were legal reasons.
Unity And Team Spirit
A nearby school in the same archdiocese, St. Theresa's in Kenilworth, New Jersey, recently made national news as well. It expelled a 12-year-old girl, Sydney Phillips, in response to a lawsuit her parents had filed to prevent her from being barred from the boys' basketball team. Earlier this month, an appellate court judge ruled that Sydney be allowed to return to the school pending a fuller hearing.
Sydney had tried to join the boys' team after her own squad had been discontinued because not enough girls were interested in playing, which was the same problem the St. John's girls had faced.
Due to an apparent oversight, the ability to play with male classmates allowed the St. John's girls to pursue their athletic passions. On Friday, however, they had to settle for an uplifting display of team spirit.
"The positive thing we saw was that everyone came together and supported each other because that's what Catholic school and being a Christian is all about," a St. John's parent, wearing a T-shirt with the phrase "#unitygames," told the team afterward.
He added, fighting tears, "What I see here is the reason why we send our children here."
UPDATE The Archdiocese of Newark's archbishop, Joseph Tobin, announced the girls are to be put back on the team, the two regular games that were not played are to be rescheduled, and the team is to remain together for the playoffs.