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Tuesday hearing on boy's field hockey fate

Keeling Pilaro, an eighth-grade boy on the girls

Keeling Pilaro, an eighth-grade boy on the girls varsity field hockey team at Southampton High School, plays in a game against Miller Place. (Oct. 21, 2011) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Keeling Pilaro, the Southampton boy deemed "too skilled" a field hockey player to compete against girls, will learn whether he will be eligible to play the fall sport after a hearing Tuesday before the Section XI Athletic Council.

The Pilaro family and Southampton High School will present their case before a panel consisting of about 30 Suffolk County school personnel in a second appeal hearing at the Smithtown office of Section XI, the governing body for Suffolk high school sports, at 10 a.m.

The family said a ruling could come as quickly as two hours after the hearing, although the initial ruling denying his eligibility was not made public until March 31, the day after that hearing.

Field hockey is a girls sport at the high school level in the United States, but according to New York's mixed competition guidelines, boys are allowed to play as long as they don't adversely affect the girls.

"We want him to be treated like every other player," the Pilaros' attorney, Frank Scagluso, said. "To rule a child out on the grounds that he's too skilled, that's counterintuitive to what education and sportsmanship is supposed to be about."

Because of his size (4-foot-8 and 82 pounds), Pilaro was approved by Section XI's mixed competition committee to play for Southampton in 2010 and 2011. But the committee determined in March that the incoming freshman demonstrated "advanced skills" last season, which had an adverse effect on the girls' opportunity to succeed. That ruling was upheld on April 18 by Section XI's appeals panel.

Pilaro, who turned 14 this month, received all-conference honors after scoring 21 points (11th-best in Long Island) and helping lead Southampton into the playoffs.

"A player like Keeling, who possesses what's considered superior skills, is adversely affecting the opportunities of female athletes -- on his and opposing teams -- to participate," Section XI's attorney Kevin Seaman said. "It doesn't sound good, but the regulations dictate it."

Pilaro, his mother, Fairley Pilaro, Southampton High School field hockey coach Kim Hannigan and athletic director Darren Phillips will be at the hearing. His father, Andrew, is in Ireland this week on business. Scagluso and Seaman will be there to observe.Section XI director Edward Cinelli said Pilaro's will be the first case heard by the athletic council this year and "only the third or fourth" since he became director in 2003.

Pilaro's mother said the family has received an outpouring of support from the Southampton community, as well as from opposing players and coaches. She said if the decision is reversed, she hopes "it provides the opportunity for people to have an in-depth look at how Section XI functions." And should the ruling be upheld, she said, the family would take legal action "as soon as possible."

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