Although it has the option to do so, the Rye School District will not appeal this week’s ruling by the Section 1 Athletic Council that upholds an earlier Section 1 decision prohibiting two boys from playing on the Rye High School varsity field hockey team.
In a prepared statement, the district indicated its decision is based largely on time, since the team, which is undefeated this season, has only six games left before its regular season ends on Oct. 19.
The district may appeal to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which oversees all public school sports in New York.
But the district’s attorney, Emily J. Lucas, indicated in an e-mail to one of the boy’s parents that the district didn’t think NYSPHSAA would support the boys.
She based this on NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas writing an affidavit in opposition to the district’s request for the state education commissioner to issue a stay of the Section 1 eligibility committee’s order so that the boys could play before the state education commissioner ultimately rules on the case, which isn’t expected to be for months.
“Although it is always possible NYSPHSAA could overturn the lower decisions, it is not likely based on Mr. Zayas’s affidavit,” Lucas said.
But Zayas said Wednesday that he would have no vote if the district appeals to NYSPHSAA and would only offer an opinion that was based on what he directly heard during the hearing and only then if the hearing body sought his opinion.
The body would be a three-member panel made up of a section executive director, a NYSPHSAA past president and a section appeals coordinator. None of the three could come from Section 1.
Despite the short time frame, Zayas indicated his organization could hold a hearing before the end of the season.
“I try to be as accommodating as possible,” he said. “Typically, I try to do it as quickly as possible. Realistically, within a week to two weeks we’d hear the appeal.”
He said a decision would be announced within five days of the hearing.
He said he had opposed the stay because the section said the boys’ presence on the field would have an “adverse impact.”
Zayas also indicated a NYSPHSAA ruling could already be in hand had the district appealed the Section 1 eligibility committee’s early-September ruling directly to it, rather than initially bypassing it and seeking relief from the state education commissioner.
The Athletic Council’s decision upholding the Section 1 eligibility committee’s decision that senior Sean Walsh and freshman Phile Govaert cannot play for the Rye varsity was released Monday.
The district has 15 days from Monday to file an appeal with NYSPHSAA
But Rye has put pursuit of the matter in the hands of the two field hockey players’ families.
In a statement released late Tuesday, the district wrote, “… At this late date in the season, with only a few weeks left to play, the district recognizes that any additional appeals out of court would likely be futile. At this point, the district has pursued all viable avenues of appeal which would have allowed the students to compete this season. The parents of the students involved have been informed of their right to pursue relief through the courts.”
Phile Govaert’s father, also named Phile, said Wednesday that both he and Sean Walsh’s family agree the district should appeal to NYSPHSAA.
Parents and students may not appeal to NYSPHSAA themselves, Zayas said.
“I always knew we had the right to go to court but we went via the school district because we thought that was the better way initially,” the senior Govaert said. “I think they should pursue all opportunities up to the highest level possible. If the argument is only a couple of weeks to go, that’s not a proper argument if it (the hearing) could be within a week’s time. That could turn things around. And with the playoffs, the season will go weeks longer.”
Walsh played for the varsity last year and Govaert, who made the varsity team this season, played on the junior varsity last year.
Because they are boys seeking to play on a sport designated for girls they had to take a physical fitness test. The section used those results against them playing, concluding they were better athletes than the girls they would play with and against, an argument refuted by the boys, their parents and Rye coach Emily Townsend Prince. Prince also vehemently denied the section’s conclusion that the boys’ presence on her team denied two spots to girls. She said no girls were kept off the team because of Govaert and Walsh.