Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Irish hockey boy's US court battle to play in girls team

Keeling Pilaro, 13, center right, plays offence as as a member of the East End Field Hockey club in New York. Pilaro
In an Oct. 21, 2011 photo, Keeling Pilaro, center, goes for the ball as a member of the Southhampton High School Girls' Varsity field hockey team during a game against Miller Place in Southhampton, N.Y. Pilaro has been told he can no longer play on the girls field hockey team because he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with, and against, girls next season. (AP Photo/Newsday, Gordon M. Grant) NYC OUT; NO SALES
In an Oct. 21, 2011 photo, Keeling Pilaro, 13, is seen on the field as a member of the Southhampton High School Girls' Varsity field hockey team during a game against Miller Place, in Southhampton, N.Y. Pilaro has been told he can no longer play on the girls field hockey team because he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with, and against, girls next season. (AP Photo/Newsday, Gordon M. Grant) NYC OUT; NO SALES

A court battle is looming after a 13-year-old boy was banned from playing hockey at school - for the girls' team.

Keeling Pilaro, who played hockey growing up in Ireland, has been told that after two years as a member of the girls' team in New York, he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with girls next season.

Keeling, whose 10 goals and eight assists earned him all-conference honours 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.

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 organisation 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. Mr 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.



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