Keeling Pilaro, the 13-year-old boy deemed "too skilled" a field hockey player to participate on the girls high school varsity team in the fall, "will be playing next season," his family's attorney said Wednesday.
"He shouldn't be penalized for the hard work he's put in to improve his skill," the family's lawyer, Frank Scagluso, said of Pilaro, who learned to play field hockey while his family lived in Ireland, and played for Southampton's varsity team as an eighth-grader last fall. "The way Section XI is interpreting the rule is very broad. It really leads to the conclusion that any participation of a male athlete in any female sport would have an adverse impact."
Once the appeals process "has been exhausted with Section XI, I think we'll have a strong case," Scagluso said. "Our intent is that he be restored to playing."
On March 30, a mixed-competition committee of Section XI, Suffolk County's governing body for high school sports, denied Pilaro permission to play next fall on the grounds that his "superior stick play" had an adverse effect on the girls' ability to participate and succeed in the sport. An appeal was denied on April 18. Another appeal hearing is scheduled with the Suffolk Athletic Council on May 15.
Kevin Seaman, the attorney for Section XI, said the committee made a "reasonable" decision that will be upheld. "I know people will support him and he's a sympathetic figure," Seaman said, "but the committee is not being unreasonable."
Section XI director Edward Cinelli said Wednesday that Pilaro's talent could have prohibited girls from succeeding and his receiving all-conference honors last fall kept the award from a female. "His play might've prevented another team from making the playoffs because he was one of the leading scorers."
The same mixed-competition committee had approved Pilaro to play on Southampton's junior varsity team in 2010 and on the varsity level last fall.
Any arguments on Pilaro's behalf that cited Title IX, established, in part, to prevent exclusion from participation on the basis of gender, may not apply in this case, experts said.
"The goal [of Title IX] is to preserve the opportunities of the underrepresented sex," said Deborah Brake, former senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., and a Title IX expert. "If the boys aren't the underrepresented sex, then the law favors girls."
Hewlett-based education lawyer Joseph M. Fein said he believes the Pilaros would have a discrimination case "because there isn't access to a boys team."
"To me, it doesn't pass the smell test of discrimination, and they'll have to allow him play -- even if he is one of the better players."