"No girls allowed" but a 5th-grade basketball team won't kick off its girls
For several years, a boys' basketball team in New Jersey has included a pair of girls. Recently, however, the squad of fifth-graders was given a difficult choice: Drop the girls, or give up playing for the rest of the season.
The team's decision was courageous and inspiring.
Before a game last week, the youngsters from St. John the Apostle school 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 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."
"I think the rules are ridiculous," she added.
Confusion Over The Rules
The team is part of the Catholic Youth Organization league, which includes teams from Catholic schools. Catholic schools and churches are divided into archdioceses, each of which is led by a cardinal known as an archbishop.
The New Jersey archdiocese's rules should have prevented the team from ever having girls on it, the children were told by the league's director two weeks ago. Because of the girls' presence, the squad's record for the season was erased, the director said.
Yet despite the warning, the whole St. John's team showed up for Friday's game against St. Bartholomew the Apostle. The tip-off was delayed as parents and coaches tried to figure out how to proceed.
"These Kids Are Doing The Right Thing"
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 of the team, reminded the squad that "this would be the end" of its season, including the playoffs. "It doesn't matter," one boy said.
After the St. Bart's team left the gym, 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."
Different School, Same Problem
A spokesman for the archdiocese said the rules make it clear that girls and boys cannot play on the same team. He said the St. John's athletic director had admitted that 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, had at first 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.
A nearby school in the same archdiocese, St. Theresa's in Kenilworth, New Jersey, recently was in the 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 kept off the boys' team. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that Sydney could return to the school.
Sydney had tried to join the boys' team after the girls' team had been discontinued because not enough girls were interested in playing. This was the same problem the St. John's girls had faced.
Something Positive Came Of It
Because of an apparent oversight, their ability to play on the boys' team allowed the St. John's girls to play the sport they love. On Friday, however, they had to settle for a united showing of team spirit.
"The positive thing we saw was that everyone came together and supported each other," a St. John's parent told the team afterward. "That's what Catholic school and being a Christian is all about," he said.
Fighting tears, he added: "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.