Southampton field hockey player Keeling Pilaro will attend school in Virginia

Keeling Pilaro, 13, is shown in Southampton. Pilaro Keeling Pilaro, 13, is shown in Southampton. Pilaro played for the Southampton field hockey team last season. (April 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Keeling Pilaro's scholastic field hockey career has come to an end -- not by way of a Section XI ruling, but a family decision to have him attend boarding school.

Pilaro, who became only the second boy to play the girls' sport on a varsity level on Long Island, will move to Virginia and enroll at Episcopal High School this fall, his family said.

In a controversial saga that made national news last year, Pilaro's family fought to have him return for a second season on Southampton's field hockey team after he was banned by Section XI, the Suffolk high schools athletic governing body. But Pilaro will not play the sport at his new school, he said.

"It's going to be an adjustment, but I know it's the right choice for me," said Pilaro, 15, who last month completed ninth grade at Southampton High School. "I'll definitely miss everyone, but I've always been OK away from home."

The family had discussed for more than a year the possibility of his attending boarding school, said his father, Andrew Pilaro. Keeling said he began researching schools last winter and chose Episcopal, a co-ed institute in Alexandria, Va.

He will move at the end of August and begin classes Sept. 3. His mother, Fairley Pilaro, is a Virginia native and has family in Charlottesville. Keeling's parents and three younger brothers will remain in Southampton, his father said.

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Episcopal has a field hockey program, but regulations there stipulate that boys can only practice with the team and not compete in league games. The Pilaros don't intend to challenge the rules, they said, and Keeling will look to join a club team in the area.

Pilaro competed against boys and men in summer tournaments last year and played with the U.S. boys Under-17 team in California in December.

"This isn't any kind of punishment, and [Keeling] was part of the decision," Andrew Pilaro said, adding that he and his wife attended boarding schools. "Southampton is wonderful, but the academics and structure [at Episcopal] are phenomenal and the added responsibilities will benefit him."

Keeling, an honor roll student and three-sport athlete at Southampton, insisted he is fine with the change.

"I think it'll go pretty smoothly, and I'll be coming back during all the holidays and breaks," he said. "I'll spend this summer hanging out with my friends a lot, though."

Keeling grew up playing field hockey in Ireland, where it's a men's sport. When his family moved back to Long Island in 2010, Section XI allowed him to join Southampton's junior varsity team. He again received its approval in 2011 before a promotion to varsity.

But in spring 2012, Pilaro was barred from playing after a mixed-competition committee determined he became "too skilled" to compete against girls. New York's guidelines allow boys to play girls sports as long as there is no adverse effect on the girls. Pilaro's family and the school district eventually got the decision overturned, and Pilaro went on to lead Southampton to the state Class C final.

Section XI director Ed Cinelli said it's "difficult to determine" how much Pilaro's success last fall would have factored in had he applied for field hockey eligibility next season, but he said, "I wish him all the best going forward."

Pilaro's coach and health teacher, Kim Hannigan, said his former Southampton teammates "kind of think of him as a graduating senior . . . He'll certainly be missed, but we understand this is the next phase in his life."

Hannigan, too, is moving on, having accepted a job to head Dowling's new field hockey program.

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"There were some tough times, but overall it was great and I had a lot of fun with my team," Pilaro said, reflecting on the drama of the last two years. "There were definitely more positives than negatives."

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