The Section 1 Athletic Council is expected to decide within five days whether to uphold a Section 1 eligibility committee’s decision prohibiting two boys from playing on the Rye High School varsity field hockey team.
The council heard arguments from the school district during an appeals hearing Wednesday.
Its decision is of paramount importance to Rye since state Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia rejected the district’s request Tuesday for a stay of the Section 1 order until she rules on an appeal the district filed with her regarding the matter.
Since Elia’s decision is not expected for many months, senior Sean Walsh and freshman Phile Govaert will not play for Rye this season if the Athletic Council does not overturn the eligibility committee’s ruling.
Section 1 executive director Jennifer Simmons could not be reached for comment.
But school district attorney Emily J. Lucas, of the Harrison law firm Ingerman Smith LLP, said in a prepared statement that the district’s argument was two-fold.
“The decision of Section 1 was arbitrary and capricious and does not comply with the intent behind the Mixed Competition guidelines issued by New York State,” she said. “Additionally, there is no evidence that the participation of these students would adversely impact female field hockey athletes.”
Both boys played for Rye last year, Walsh, a newcomer to the game who scored just three goals last year, was on the varsity. Govaert was on the junior varsity, where he scored nine goals.
One argument the committee used in banning the boys is that they displaced other girls from the team.
But varsity field hockey coach Emily Townsend Prince said that was not the case. She chose 16 players for varsity and has not brought any players in to replace the boys, although she said, as many teams do, she may promote some junior varsity players before the end of the season so that they can gain experience.
“I didn’t want to have anyone on the team that couldn’t cut the work effort and performance level at practice. The boys on the team or off made no difference. It wasn’t a numbers game at all,” she said, referring to the roster being chosen based on a “baseline skill level.”
But the eligibility committee also concluded the boys are more physically fit than the average Section 1 female field hockey player.
As is required of all athletes who wish to play on an opposite-gender team, the pair had to take physical fitness tests.
But the Govaerts noted before this occurred last spring, they were told their son had to strive to obtain minimum standards for his age group simply in order to be considered for the team.
He trained for three weeks with his sister, Fusine, who was the varsity team’s leading scorer last year with 37 goals and 23 assists.
“If I had to do the tests right now, I’d probably fail all of them,” Phile Govaert said. “I really wanted to play field hockey, so that’s why we trained so hard.”
The boys had to run a mile, do a one-minute shuttle run and do as many sit-ups and push-ups as they could in one minute. There was also a flexibility test.
Walsh said he received a letter from the section that said his physical abilities exceed those of his teammates and players on other teams, But he noted the female athletes did not take the test.
Further, Walsh, who is 5-foot-11 ½ and weighs only 145 pounds, said he weighs less and his weaker than many of his teammates.
He also said the only passing mark he obtained on the physical fitness test for a boy his age was in the mile run.
“They said I was a safety hazard. They portray me as some huge guy whose strength is going to hurt someone else. … If you compare my shot to Fu’s (Fusine Govaert’s) it’s not half as strong,” said Walsh, who added he couldn’t keep up with his female teammates during a team core workout.
Phile Govaert, said he considers the ruling the result of “bias.”
“I’m one of the smallest kids on my team,” the 114-pounder said. “I have no clue why they say I have a physical advantage when there are kids two times bigger than me.”
Phile Govaert’s father, also Phile, suggested that Walsh was being “sacrificed” because of his son, whose field hockey skills were honed at an early age in their native Netherlands.
“It’s like people trying to make up one and one is three, instead of two. He was noticed. ‘He’s a pretty skilled player. Let’s get rid of him.’ It has nothing to do with argument boys could be a risk. It’s all wishy washy arguments. It has to do with the personal agenda of the coaches (from other teams),” the elder Govaert maintained.
Walsh said he didn’t know the reasons behind the eligibility committee’s ruling but, explaining he hopes the decision is overturned, he said, “Being on the team is the core part of my high school career. It’s more of a community than I’ve ever had in high school.”