Keeling Pilaro and his family felt a sense of relief Wednesday, a day after winning their appeal that permits the 14-year-old boy to compete at least one more season in field hockey, a girls sport.
An appeals 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 could take away opportunities for girls to participate and succeed.
Keeling's mother, Fairley Pilaro, believes statistics presented by Southampton coach Kim Hannigan and the school's attorney, Thomas Volz, may have swayed some votes and countered an argument about the eighth-grader's dominance.
"The stats showed that while Keeling was Southampton's leading scorer, none of his goals came against top-three teams in their division," Fairley Pilaro said.
"Looking around the room and trying to read body language, it seemed this panel was more engaged and open-minded," Hannigan said of the Tuesday meeting.
Kevin Seaman, attorney for Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, said the vote favored Pilaro being allowed to play by "about a 4-5 margin" among a panel of about 20.
According to New York's mixed competition rules, boys are allowed to compete in girls sports as long as they don't have an adverse effect on the girls.
Miller Place athletic director Lisa Lally was a member of the committee whose ruling allowed Pilaro to play.
"I stand by how the committee voted. That's the decision we came to after deliberation and I'm comfortable with it," she said. Lally, however, wouldn't divulge which way she voted or why the Suffolk Athletic Council's ruling was contrary to that of the Section XI mixed competition committee on March 30 or an appeals panel on April 18. "We won't talk about what occurred in that room," she said.
Pierson athletic director Montgomery Granger wasn't a voter, but said Tuesday's decision puts female field hockey players and coaches in the unfair position of "having to accept and adapt to Keeling," whether they approve.
"The real reason we have mixed-competition rules is to prevent lawsuits," Granger said. "When you have one of these anomalies, and if the parents are really pushing for it, everyone is forced to accept a situation that shouldn't have been in the first place."
Sayville field hockey player Olivia Cabral, who scored 28 points last fall, said Tuesday's panel made the right call. "I would understand if a boy was physically dominant, but that's not the case here," she said. "I'm glad they changed the ruling. To have banned someone for being too skilled wouldn't have made sense."
Her teammate, Taylor Mills, added: "I think the perception might have changed once [Section XI] saw how many people, from all over, were supportive of Keeling."
Pilaro, born in Southampton, moved to Ireland and learned to play field hockey there. His family moved back to Southampton in 2010 and the mixed competition committee granted him permission to play for Southampton that fall and again in 2011 on the basis that his size (4-6, 82 pounds) wouldn't put girls at a physical disadvantage.