Boy OK to play on girls' field hockey team

An appeals committee ruling will allow 14-year-old Keeling An appeals committee ruling will allow 14-year-old Keeling Pilaro, who was the only boy playing field hockey on Long Island last season, to compete again in the fall. (May 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

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Keeling Pilaro will be playing field hockey this fall.

An appeals committee ruling will allow the 14-year-old, who was the only boy playing field hockey on Long Island last season, to compete again in the fall.

The committee Tuesday overturned a March ruling that would have barred him from playing for Southampton High School next season because he was too skilled and would eliminate opportunities for girls to participate and succeed.

Pilaro learned to play field hockey while growing up in Ireland, where it is a popular men's game. It is a girls sport at the high school level in the United States, but New York allows boys to play so long as there is no adverse effect.

"I'm excited to be able to play with my teammates for one more year," Pilaro said. "I think everybody is more at ease now. I can just relax and not have to worry about all this stress."

Edward Cinelli, the executive director of Section XI, Suffolk County's governing body for high school sports, said Pilaro's eligibility will remain on a year-to-year basis and "he'll be evaluated again next year."

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Earlier Tuesday, Pilaro, accompanied by his mother, coach and lawyers representing the family and Southampton school district, presented his case before the committee.

The ruling for Pilaro was made by "about 20" of the council's eligible voters -- Suffolk County school personnel who hadn't already heard his case.

Section XI's attorney, Kevin Seaman, said the vote was "about a 4-5 margin" in favor of Pilaro being allowed to play.

"The board felt there wasn't enough on the table to rule that Keeling had a significant adverse effect," Seaman said.

After the members "reviewed all the information and put away their feelings," Seaman said, "the majority didn't feel there was a sufficient basis to ban him."

"I'm really happy," said Maddy Price, a Southampton teammate. "Everyone's excited about it. He's super fun and he's a great teammate. You can always turn to him for a good laugh and he's always supportive."

Section XI's mixed competition committee had approved Pilaro to play for Southampton in 2010 and 2011, on the basis that his size at the time (4-foot-6, 82 pounds) did not pose a threat.

But the committee determined in March that he demonstrated "advanced skills" last season that had an adverse effect on girls participating. That decision was upheld in an April 18 appeal hearing.

Pilaro earned all-conference honors last season as an eighth-grader after scoring 21 points, 11th-most in Long Island. Southampton lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Former Centereach and Ward Melville field hockey coach Nancy Cole has watched Pilaro play and said, "He's good for an eighth-grader, but there are so many kids who are much better. He's not the LeBron James of field hockey.""I think it's great," Rocky Point coach Katie Bittner said of yesterdayTuesday's ruling. Her team faced Southampton three times last year and eliminated them in the playoffs. "I think he brings a lot of enthusiasm and interest to the game."

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Now Pilaro no longer has to worry about lawyers and appeals and can focus on the game he loves.

"I was confident from the start," Pilaro said. "I thought they would let me play eventually."

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