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Why can’t New Jersey boy play with the girls?

August 31, 2011 – 9:21 AM

By Laura Pappano

It’s happened again: In New Jersey, a boy wants to play high school field hockey — and people are up in arms.

Hillsborough High School senior Jimmy Cao, who’s 16, wants to be part of the team, but New Jersey’s governing body has barred him from playing. It’s not a surprising finding given that when such cases have been decided in court, judges have ruled that Title IX permits girls to play on boy’s teams, but not the reverse. Despite the Newark Star-Ledger editorial and concerns that boys will overrun and overpower a girl’s team, court rulings are not about “power,” but about ensuring opportunities for the underrepresented group, girls and women.

In many states, however, boys do play alongside girls on high school field hockey teams. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, during 2009-2010 school year, 308 boys played on girl’s field hockey teams in Ohio (33), Massachusetts (36), California (123), Vermont (97), and Kentucky (19).

While many people seem to believe that the moment a male steps onto a field hockey field that his superhero-like strength will make the girls melt, reality is that field hockey remains a game of skill and finesse. Sure, hitting the ball well matters — but if you hit it too hard, your teammate can’t get it before it rolls out of bounds.

And in goal-scoring (I was a goalie in high school and college), the straight hard shots are among the easiest to anticipate and stop. It’s the unexpected flick or the rebound that is the killer. In other words, just because a player is male (and post-puberty could have greater muscle strength) doesn’t mean he is a superior player. In fact, such thinking is what reinforces gender stereotypes.

When we find ways for girls and boys of comparable skill levels to play together, everyone wins. High school field hockey seems a perfect venue to try. After all, when these players get to college, many club teams are — yes, gasp! – coed.

Newark Star-Ledger editorial writer Julie O’Conner interviewed me about the New Jersey controversy. Read the Q&A here.


  1. One Response to “Why can’t New Jersey boy play with the girls?”

  2. Good post! I understand that we would want to protect female sports because there are limited opportunities to begin with, but I also think that saying no is what got us divided into mens and women’s sports in the first place. Certainly, if there are no boy’s field hockey teams available in his area then I think he should be allowed to play, considering if the reverse happened we would be up in arms. Gender equality works both ways.

    By Courtney on Sep 1, 2011

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