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Spike this: Pregnant volleyball player misserved by school officials

December 1, 2009 – 7:30 PM

By Laura Pappano

Sure, research shows that high school girls who play sports are less likely than their non-athletic peers to get pregnant. But sometimes it happens.

When it does, schools and districts need fair and sensible policies that allow girls (with guidance from a physician) to continue to compete and participate, particularly early in the pregnancy.

For Mackenzie McCollum, a 17-year-old senior at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, Texas and the starting setter on the school’s volleyball team, the trauma of discovering that she was pregnant was compounded by school officials whose misdirected response has left her and her mother battling the district and raising the profile of pregnant athletes’ rights. According to a report on ESPN, McCollum was at times barred from the team and then allowed to play, but given dramatically reduced playing time, even though she was in her first trimester of pregnancy and had the written support of her physician.  (Read and watch the story here).

Holly Powell Kennedy, Helen Varney Professor of Midwifery at the Yale School of Nursing, says McCollum, “received very appropriate advice from her clinician and should be able to continue with sports while pregnant…In fact, it is likely to be beneficial in many ways…”

But as Kennedy points out, this is more than a health matter. “Of course,” she writes, “the umbrella is the big ‘Scarlet A’!”

For most teenage girls, discovering you are pregnant is an unwelcome surprise. It is life-changing and identity-altering. More than 150 years after we met Hester Prynne, out-of-wedlock girls who get pregnant are still shamed. McCollum, who chose not to end the pregnancy because of her faith, bears the burden of stares in the hallways and whispered judgments.

It’s troubling when school officials reveal their ignorance precisely when a student most needs sensible support. Pregnancy is NOT a state of incapacity. McCollum’s future will be more challenging, but she is no less of a student or an athlete than she was last year. Like any high school senior, she should not stop doing the things that are central to her self-worth, identity, and—yes – physical and emotional health.

Athletes do, have, and will get pregnant (even when it’s not convenient). Early last year the NCAA issued rules protecting pregnant college athletes from losing scholarship support after reports of athletes hiding their pregnancies. (see the full policy here.)

— Ashley Shields played basketball at Northwestern Mississippi Community College while eight months pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy son.

— Syracuse University basketball player Fantasia Goodwin, who hid her pregnancy until just before the last game of the season, gave birth to a healthy daughter April 19, 2007.

— In 2003, Connie Neal played eleven games before she told University of Louisville coaches she was pregnant. Her last game: December 20th. She gave birth her to daughter Jan. 31.

The NCAA policy points out that “most pregnant athletes with normal pregnancies can safely continue to participate in team activities, with progressive modifications, as the pregnancy develops past the 14th week.”

Surely high school volleyball (even in Texas) isn’t as demanding as NCAA play. This thoughtful, detailed, and well-footnoted policy is easily find-able on the web. Surely McCollum could have received more enlightened support from Arlington Heights officials.

Or maybe they should be wearing an “A” for “Addled.”

  1. 3 Responses to “Spike this: Pregnant volleyball player misserved by school officials”

  2. wow is all I can say to that post. It was written with such composure.After reading that I am going to buy tickets to a URI game.I have never really followed college basketball.But I would love to go to a game.go rams

    By gene carlan on Jan 6, 2010

  3. Bravo Laura, this is great. I dig it. (pun very much intended)

    By LT on Jan 7, 2010

  4. I am the Sports Information Director at Northwest Mississippi Community College and I can tell you what Ashley Shields is saying is an absolute lie.

    Ashley wasn’t playing well and our coach noticed that she was sluggish in games and at practice. He sat Ashley down in his office and asked her if she was pregnant and she said “Yes Coach, about four months.”

    Ashley was immediately benched. This happened in December and she did not come back to Northwest the next semester.

    I do not know why Shields is saying she was eight months pregnant when she played. Maybe she thinks people will consider her a better player because she had to overcome her pregnancy.

    By Brett Brown on Feb 23, 2010

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