In an era of progressivism, gender equality has been riding the storm in the workplace, medicine, and social justice. But there is a place where it has yet to be fully addressed – athletics.
The PMS eighth-grade volleyball team, with a roster consisting of both girls and boys, has received rejections from all-girl volleyball teams they are scheduled to play, said Director of the Piedmont Recreation Department Sara Lillevand.
The incident started three weeks ago when rival Stanley Middle School contacted the PMS teams and refused to play them. They expressed concerns about safety and fairness regarding the boys on the team, Lillevand said. However, Interim Recreation Supervisor Michael Murphy intervened and convinced Stanley to play.
“I really expected that to be the end of the conversation because one of our long time rivals came and saw that it wasn’t a big deal,” Lillevand said.
On Sept. 26, Longfellow Middle School contacted the Recreation Department and “adamantly” expressed that they would not play Piedmont if they brought their boy team members, Lillevand said.
In response, the Recreation Department canceled the game and reasoned that it was not worth putting their teams through a “circus,” Lillevand said. Following the conflict, other middle school teams including Martin Luther King have expressed concerns and reluctance towards playing the coed volleyball team.
“It seems like it’s kind of unnecessary and sexist because we are all evenly matched,” said eighth grade volleyball player Brayden Day. “Other teams think we are trying to use me and the other boys to win but we really just want to play volleyball. ”
Despite these hardships, girls on the Piedmont teams are in strong support of their male team members, said eighth grade volleyball player Tara Kothari.
“We have all become good friends over the past three weeks,” Kothari said. “Although the complaints were directed towards the boys, we took them as a team.”
Piedmont historically has had several boys play on girls volleyball teams but did not receive any formal complaints until recently, Lillevand said. Piedmont has been unable to provide a boys volleyball team due to lack of interest.
“We feel not only is it safe and appropriate, but really our mandate to provide meaningful participation opportunities for all students,” Lillevand said. “We have boys who want to play volleyball and we have an appropriate place for them to play it.”
The middle school teams are not part of an official league with rules, Lillevand said. They play exhibition matches with local teams they have established long relationships with. Score and record are nonexistent in these matches, only in tournaments which usually occur at the end of the season.
Regardless of age, volleyball can be a coed sport, Athletic Director Alphonso Powell said.
“While [a player] might be stronger, taller, and faster, the other team is ultimately playing against the ball, not the player,” Powell said. “Unlike a lot of other sports where you physically play defence, you cannot cross the net and make physical contact with the other team [in volleyball.]”
However, Powell said volleyball at the high school level is gender segregated due to regulations set by the National Federation of State High School Associations, or NFSHS. Despite girls being able to join men’s teams at a high school level, the opposite is prevented.
According to Powell, a boy cannot join a girl’s team in high school because the NFSHS outlines that the group must have been historically discriminated against to play on the team of the other sex.
Because the middle school has no official league and only plays exhibition games and tournaments, Powell said that boys should legally be allowed to play for a girl’s team. Having coed teams will encourage both sexes to explore any sport.
“The culture is definitely different on a coed team,” badminton team co-captain Lucian Lin said. “Unlike locker room talk that usually occurs on single gender teams, there is an inherent respect between both girls and boys on the Badminton team.”