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OP-ED: Banned from football not only unfair, but illegal
I am a 14-year-old football player fighting for gender equality, for equal opportunities for all girls to experience a football career just like me.
I started playing football when I was 5 years old. It was never a problem that I was the only girl on the field until I was 11, playing my second season (2012) in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia CYO league. Abruptly, the archdiocese announced that it would be my last season because of an antiquated and obscure rule stating football was for boys only.
I was crushed but not defeated. I knew this was unfair. Then I learned it was illegal.
In an article about my case in Forbes, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a lawyer at the Women's Sports Foundation said the archdiocese, as a recipient of federal funds, is subject to follow Title IX, the federal rule banning gender-based discrimination. Allowing me to play one season and then trying to kick me off for the next, solely because of my gender, was a violation of this law.
So I knew I had to fight this and started a change.org petition that received more than 108,000 signatures. I told my story on national news networks and television programs, including "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
In March 2013, Archbishop Charles Chaput changed the rule, making CYO football co-ed in Philadelphia. I had won my fight, and I was so happy.
But last year, Pennsylvania's Catholic bishops decided to reverse course, saying once and for all that football is for boys only. I was allowed to play for my eighth-grade season, but no other girls would have the opportunity to participate.
However, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia continues to receive federal funding and thus must continue to abide by Title IX rules. By allowing me to play, the archdiocese gave up any same-sex exemption that had previously allowed it to ban girls from football. This position is supported by the case "Mercer v. Duke University," involving a female football kicker. In other words, any girl who wants to play must be given an equal opportunity to do so by law, just as I was.
Since the archdiocese can't change the law, it can't change its rulebook — unless it wants to return all the federal money it receives.
The best thing about being a kid in sports is that we get to enjoy doing what we love. We should not have to deal with discrimination that teaches us to believe that not everyone in the world is equal.
My football team, the Romans, just completed our final season together by winning back-to-back championships. My coach says no team has done that in the history of the league. I'm a better person because of this experience. My teammates are my family in faith and in football, and I will never forget them.
Through my teammates, I have learned that it doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, or if you're a boy or a girl. Everyone has a voice that can be heard and can make a difference if they have the power of determination. If you love something enough to fight for it, then good things will happen. Right now, I need you to raise your voice so that more girls can follow in my footsteps.
The archdiocese may have thought that, because I am done with my football career, this matter is resolved. But it is not. I am not walking away from this. I am not walking away from the future of girls having an equal opportunity to play sports.
So I have started another petition at www.change.org to continue to push them to do the moral and legal right thing. No girl should be banned from playing football.
If you believe in equality, join me in my fight. Sign my petition. Contact the archbishop and ask him to allow young people to have the chance to learn and grow together, not separately.
— Caroline Pla is an eighth-grader at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, Pa. She wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.