Jersey Girl Gridder Wins Jersey
An 11th-grade girl in Annandale, N.J., will suit up for high-school football practice this week, following a state administrative-law judge's temporary ruling allowing her to play on an all-male team.
The decision of Elizabeth Balsley, 15, to take on the North Hunterdon Regional High School District has brought her a measure of celebrity, not only in local but in national news media.
Her struggle has also caused Superintendent of Schools Robert Neumann to spend a full "three or four days" on the phone with reporters curious about the district's original decision to deny Ms. Balsley a chance to play for the North Hunterdon High Lions.
To some who follow high-school sports issues, however, what is perplexing about the case is that so much is being made of it.
"I'm frankly surprised that anyone can get their picture in the paper anymore for having a girl on a boy's team," said Richard Schindler, assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, in Kansas City, Mo.
Mr. Schindler, who works on football issues for the federation, points out that "over the years, when it's been tested, the courts have said you have to allow girls to play if they want to play."
Currently, a total of eight girls nationwide play on high-school football teams, according to a 1984 survey of high-school sports teams conducted by the federation. Its 1983 survey listed 13 girls as football players.
The 1984 survey also found six girl wrestlers, 38 girls playing ice hockey, and 145 girls playing on high-school baseball teams.
Legal opinion is not undivided on the subject of affording girls the opportunity to participate in traditionally all-male school sports. Thomas Jones, executive director of the National Organization for Legal Problems in Education, pointed to a 1982 federal-court case in Illinois in which an ll-year-old girl was denied the right to try out for a boys' basketball team.
"But, generally, it goes the other way," said Mr. Schindler of the sports federation.
James Granello, the lawyer for the North Hunterdon school district, said officials had denied Ms. Balsley's request out of concern for her3"physical well-being," because the district provides a "comparable sports program for girls," and because state education regulations8"do not mandate that every particular sport be offered to every boy and girl."
Ms. Balsley's lawyer, AnneMcHugh, argued that the school district's position violated both the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and state statutes against discrimination in public education.
In an Aug. 20 preliminary decision,3Daniel McKeown, the state administrative law judge, sided with Ms. Balsley. Because "no reason was afforded the petitioner" as to why shecould not play on the team, "consequently the inference is extremely strong that the sole reason is because of her sex," he wrote.
Judge McKeown's ruling is expected to be followed by a full hearing on the issue Sept. 9.
Mr. Schindler, whose organization takes no official position on the matter, said he thinks that "if somebody wants to play, and they think football is their game, and they want to try out for the team, more power to them." With regard to the question of women's fitness for the sport, he noted, "We've got boys who probably ought not to play."