CALIFORNIA — A boys' high school tennis team has forfeited four matches and lost its section title for using a girl to round out its squad during those contests.
The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League ruled that California Area High School violated a new rule that's meant to keep schools from fielding mixed-gender teams if the school provides teams for both sexes.
California has a girls tennis team that competes in the fall, so the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association backed the league's decision to reject the school's appeal. That decision was handed down Friday.
Athletic Director Chris Minerd said he was disappointed by the ruling but understood it.
Minerd told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he was hired a month after the rule was announced and couldn't tell by the roster that a girl was on the team because her first name — Dakota — is unisex. He said the new rule wasn't fully explained to the coaches, either.
"One of the contentions that we made at the (appeal) hearing is that she started playing the first game of the season, and the other coach never questioned it because he didn't know the rule either," Minerd said.
The girl played on the team's second doubles squad because the team started the season short one boy. But a coach for another team complained after a loss.
California's boys' team was 11-0 before the PIAA's decision but still managed to qualify for the playoffs with an adjusted record of 7-4, and 5-4 in the section.
The rule change is the first on the gender issue by the PIAA since a 1975 Commonwealth Court decision said a girl could play on the boys football team.
The PIAA assumed that court decision cut both ways — meaning boys couldn't be denied opportunities to play on girls' teams if their school didn't offer the sport for boys — until the court clarified in late 2013 that the injunction applied only to girls seeking to play on boys teams.
Some boys had begun playing field hockey or volleyball — both traditionally girls sports in Pennsylvania — because their schools didn't offer those teams for boys. But that had raised concerns about "diminished opportunities for girls, increased risks of injuries for the girls and competitive advantages for the (girls) teams that have used boys," the PIAA said adopting the new rule.
Under the new rules, boys can still play on girls teams but only if the school's principal determines that a girl wouldn't lose her spot on the team, the boy wouldn't increase the risk of injury to opponents because of his size and the boy wouldn't provide a significant competitive advantage. The principal must also determine that the overall sports program at a school provides fewer opportunities for boys than girls.
The rule for girls remains simple: They can play on a boys' team if the school doesn't offer a comparable sport.
WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said the new rules were explained to schools in April 2014 before taking effect July 1.
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