PIAA overhauls gender rules for high school sports

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PITTSBURGH – The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association overhauled gender rules for boys and girls sports teams, which will make it nearly impossible for boys to play on girls’ squads but will safeguard and possibly expand opportunities for girls.


The rule changes were approved Thursday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported, and the PIAA issued a statement and the guidelines Friday.


The rule changes are the first the PIAA has attempted since a 1975 Commonwealth Court decision said a girl could play on a boys football team.


The PIAA said it always 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 last fall that the injunction applied only to girls seeking to play on boys teams.


Since 1975, some girls have participated on football and wrestling teams and, more recently, some boys have begun playing field hockey or volleyball – traditionally girls sports – because their schools didn’t offer those teams for boys.


That 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 in a news release.


PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi said the new rules “will expand opportunity for female athletes, protect the ideals of fair competition and conserve the health and safety of our female participants.”


Under the new rules, boys can still pay on girls teams, but only if the school’s principal determines four things: The boy wouldn’t displace a girl from the team; wouldn’t increase the risk of injury to opponents because of his size; wouldn’t provide a significant competitive advantage; and, finally, only if the overall sports program at a school provides fewer opportunities for boys than girls.


The PIAA is further discouraging boys from playing on girls teams by ruling any “mixed gender” teams must participate in playoffs against other boys teams.


The PIAA also agreed to sanction boys field hockey “with the hope that the sport will grow and have enough all-boys and mixed gender teams to have boys’ playoffs in the future.”


Girls still can play on a boys team if the school doesn’t offer a comparable sport. That means girls playing football or wrestling aren’t affected by the rule changes, and it could mean some girls could play baseball because the PIAA doesn’t consider that comparable to softball.


Boys and girls volleyball and lacrosse will be viewed as comparable sports for purposes of the new rules, which take effect this fall, the PIAA said.


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