Mixed-gender youth sports increasingly common despite controversy


BOSTON — The players on Carver High School’s girls’ soccer team say senior Kevin Ginnety fits right in — he’s just “one of the girls,” his team captain says — even if he is a boy.      

As a junior, Ginnety was a member of the boys’ team that won Massachusetts’ South Coast Conference title a year ago. But that team graduated 10 seniors, and it didn’t have enough returning players to field a team this fall, despite its best recruiting efforts.

That left Ginnety searching for a place to finish his high school career — and he quickly found himself at home on his school’s girls’ squad. Ginnety towers over his teammates and opponents on the field, but his on-field skills don’t immediately turn heads.

Ginnety’s switch to the girls’ team hasn’t sparked much controversy — senior captain Gemma Tibbits was stone-faced when she made the comment about Ginnety being “one of the girls.” But similar stories have caused problems in other states.

The biggest story in Pennsylvania high school sports in recent weeks has been the fallout from an ugly incident involving a Pittsburgh-area high school where students earlier this month directed shockingly vulgar chants at the girl goalie playing for a rival school’s boys’ hockey team.

The state’s Greensburg Salem High School also had three boys playing on its girls’ lacrosse team in the spring.

One of the boys, Landon Morrison, had four multigoal games, including games where he scored six and four goals.

Another, Cullen Carney, is the size of a football lineman, giving him a massive size advantage over the girls, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Woodland Hills High School also had several boys play on their girls’ field hockey team.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has a “mixed gender” rule that prohibits players from playing for teams of the opposite gender, and says the teams ignoring the rule may face penalties.  

In Connecticut, the rules governing high school sports are much more lenient. Players compete for the gender they most closely identify with — an accommodation that led to transgender females dominating girls’ high school track in 2018.

It’s not just high schools: Boundaries that have traditionally separated women and men in athletic competition are under pressure or being erased at all levels of sports.

Football player Sarah Fuller became the first female to compete in a top-level college football game when she took the field to kick for Vanderbilt University in a game against the University of Missouri.

This summer in Tokyo, New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard, who spent most of her athletic career as a male weightlifter, became the first transgender woman to compete in the Olympics.

Competing across gender lines internationally isn’t just a matter of personal choice. The International Olympic Committee relies on testosterone tests to determine who can compete in women’s events.

In 2015, IOC rules allowed athletes with testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter to compete on female teams. But that threshold was lowered to five nanomoles per liter in 2019. Most cisgender female athletes have a testosterone level of less than two nanomoles per liter.

The new rules created problems for athletes born biologically female who identify as women but have naturally high testosterone levels.

Multiple track and field runners were barred from competing in the female races unless they were able to lower their testosterone levels for at least one year prior to the Tokyo Games.

As more athletes like Ms. Hubbard emerge and enter women’s sports, schools, states and sports governing bodies are increasingly caught between demands for inclusivity and those who say women — biological women — deserve their own category of competition.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law for his state last month requiring student-athletes to play on sports teams that match the sex listed on their birth certificate. The new rule will go into effect in January.

Save Women’s Sports, a coalition founded by amateur powerlifter Beth Stelzner, works to preserve biology-based eligibility standards for women’s sports. Stelzner and her supporters vocally supported the Texas law and others like it around the country.

“Identities do not play sports. Bodies do,” Stelzner said.

Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez disagrees — he passionately testified against the law at the state capitol in Austin earlier this year.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas directly stated they are feeling stressed, using self-harm and considering suicide due to anti-LGBT laws and anti-LGBT bills being debated in our state,” he said. Martinez also pointed out that there isn’t a specific incident that prompted the change.

“We are painting trans people as caricatures, so it becomes easier to attack them,” he said.

For activists like Mr. Martinez, mixed-gender sports teams are the front lines in a fight for basic civil rights.

But for high schoolers like Kevin Ginnety, it’s less about civil rights and gender identity than about getting to keep playing a sport he loves.

“I was used to playing with my boys’ team and then we didn’t have a team,” he said. “Then I was welcomed here.”  

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