The Section 1 Athletic Council has sided with Section 1’s eligibility committee, ruling Monday that two boys may not play for the Rye High School varsity field hockey team.
The boys, senior Sean Walsh and freshman Phile Govaert, were judged to be superior to female field hockey players based on a physical fitness test that required them in part to run a mile and do push-ups and sit-ups.
The council also concluded the boys would displace girls from the team, something coach Emily Townsend Prince said was untrue.
Efforts to reach the school district’s attorney, Emily J. Lucas of the Harrison law firm Ingerman Smith LLP, interim athletic director Rod Mergardt and Townsend Prince failed, so it is unclear whether Rye plans to drop the matter or take its case to the New York State Public High School Athletic Council, which oversees all public school sports.
Walsh’s mother, Claire, and Govaert’s sister, Fusine, who was Section 1’s leading scorer last year, both called Monday night for further appeal.
Walsh said a letter the family received from the Section 1 Athletic Council the council was “unpersuaded” by the district’s argument Walsh’s participation would not create a “hazardous condition.”
“He isn’t a big, strong guy,” she said of her 145-pound son, who scored three goals on varsity last year.
She dismissed the notion he was superior to his teammates, in part noting he sat on the bench last year during the overtimes in Rye’s sectional final game.
Fusine Govaert questioned how the two could be judged physically superior. She noted the girls on their team had not taken the physical fitness test.
“I’m really hoping they do not let this go,” she said of her school district. “They should just have an equal right to play. The things I’ve heard and read, I just think it’s really, really unfair. They’re saying boys are superior just because they look at statistics.”
The brother and sister trained together last spring so that Phile, who played on the junior varsity last year, could score high enough to be considered eligible for consideration to play again, his family has said.
He has said he doubts he would pass the test today.
The 114-pounder was tested as a 13-year-old last spring, with his results measured against other 13-year-olds. He has since turned 14.
“They said (last spring) if he didn’t pass fitness test he wouldn’t be able to pay at all,” his sister said. “We have 12 seniors. Most are 17 or 18. He is never going to be stronger than us. It’s unfair. They’ve never seen him play or practice. If they’d seen one game or practice they’d know he is the least strong. We run by him. We dribble by him. Skill-wise he is not the best of the team. I don’t think they can base its decision on pure statistics.”
But the ruling also refers to Govaert’s play last year on the junior varsity, where he scored nine goals. It refers to his school acknowledging Govaert, who like his older sister, spent his early childhood playing field hockey in their native Netherlands, was better than other JV players.
“The panel is unpersuaded by the RCSD argument that his participation would not create an unfair advantage solely because he is of comparable size to other members of the team and his competition,” Monday’s ruling says in part.
“He has experience. They’re taking that experience in a girl and rejecting in a boy,” Claire Walsh countered, alluding to the fact Fusine Govaert scored 37 goals for Rye’s varsity last year.
Section 1 executive director Jennifer Simmons represented the eligibility committee at the hearing last week before the Executive Council.
In part, she argued that Govaert “far exceeded 85 percent norms” for girls his age on the physical fitness test.
The panel concluded that, in part based on his performance on the JV level, he would be “far superior” to most varsity players.
The ruling came as no surprise to Govaerts, who earlier questioned whether one Section 1 committee would ever overrule another Section 1 committee.
“Phile is 14 years old (since August 12),” Govaert’s mother, Maryse Govaert, said. “He was tested as a 13-year-old. Phile plays with 16-17-year-old girls. What physical advantage can he possibly have?”
“I’m not sure why the section is saying no, “ Fusine Govaert added. “ I’m not sure who’s behind this. I am almost going to make assumptions that there are other people behind this from other teams. The section hasn’t seen them play. They can’t just make assumptions about how good or bad they are. I just think it’s the biggest nonsense they can’t play. They should just be treated equally, be able to play and able to have fun. It’s all just a game.”