PIAA changes gender rules

Conestoga's Oliver Everts. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)

The PIAA has overhauled gender rules for boys' and girls' teams, making it nearly impossible for boys to play on girls' squads but safeguarding and possibly expanding opportunities for girls.

The state organization also plans to sanction boys' field hockey.

The PIAA issued guidelines on the rules changes Friday. The changes are the first that the PIAA has attempted since a 1975 Commonwealth Court decision ruled that a girl could play on a 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.

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, a boy may play on a girls' team only if the school's principal determines four things: The boy wouldn't displace a girl from the team, the boy wouldn't increase the risk of injury to opponents because of his size, the boy wouldn't provide a significant competitive advantage, and the overall sports program at the school provides fewer opportunities for boys than girls.

The PIAA is further discouraging boys from playing on girls' teams by ruling that 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."

Boys have played field hockey in the Philadelphia area, including Oliver Everts, who has competed the last three seasons for Conestoga, and Ron Shousky was a member of the girls' lacrosse team this spring at Franklin Towne Charter, which lacked a boys' squad.

Girls still may play on a boys' team if the school doesn't offer a comparable sport, such as football or wrestling. That could mean some girls could play baseball because the PIAA doesn't consider that comparable to softball.