Boy barred from girls’ hockey as top skills an ‘unfair advantage’

He’s too good, and that’s too bad.

A 13-year-old New York boy who played field hockey growing up in Ireland has been told he is now too skilled to qualify for an exemption allowing him to compete with — and against — girls next season.

Keeling Pilaro’s 10 goals and eight assists earned him all-conference honours as a member of the Southampton High School girls’ team for the past two years.

Keeling, the only boy in any league, is appealing the decision by the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk County.

Keeling is the grandson of Tony Pilaro, who moved his family to Ireland where he was a big investor with Irish American billionaire Chuck Feeney in Duty Free shops.

Up until two years ago, before moving to the US, Keeling played with the Pembroke Wanderers junior boys team, known as the Colts, where he was seen as a very promising player.

A lawyer for Keeling’s family, who live in suburban Long Island, suggested a court battle could ensue if the ball didn’t bounce Keeling’s way.

An appeals committee said it looked only at his skills, not size or strength, when upholding the decision to keep him off the field. That raises a question of discrimination.

Keeling’s fight appears to be a rare example of a young man seeking to take advantage of Title IX, a 40-year-old law enacted to provide women equal access to athletic opportunities.

There are no boys’ high school field hockey teams anywhere on Long Island, or in most of the country.

“It’s really annoying,” Keeling said in an interview. “I’m just 4ft 8in and 82lb, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to play. I don’t really care if I’m on a girls’ team or a boys’ team, I just want to play.”

Southampton school administrators agree but they don’t have the final say.

“The decision to support him represents our commitment to provide meaningful opportunities to each of our students,” Dr J Richard Boyes said in a statement.

“Our community, including the girls on our field hockey team, embraced Keeling Pilaro and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The problem, according to Edward Cinelli, the director of the organisation that oversees high school athletics in Suffolk County, is that state education law won’t allow it. He cited a provision that says administrators are permitted to bar boys from girls’ teams if a boy’s participation “would have a significant adverse effect” on a girl’s chance to participate in inter-school competition in that sport.

Officials say Keeling’s skills are superior to the girls he plays against, creating an unfair advantage.

Keeling’s defenders say that while he has played well, his skills are not superior to everyone else in the league, and also that his skill level should not be the final determining factor in whether he gets to play.

In order to play with the girls in the first place, Keeling had to get permission from Suffolk’s mixed-competition committee. Cinelli says there have been occasions where girls have been approved to play football, wrestle or compete in other traditional boys sports, but Keeling is the first in his memory to play with girls.

The committee in March denied Keeling permission to play later this year and the panel’s appeals committee affirmed that decision.

“Stick-play, quickness and agility are the ingredients of superior play and those are the characteristics of Keeling Pilaro relative to those girls with and against whom he participated,” the committee wrote.

Another appeal hearing is set for next Tuesday.


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