On the eve of Saturday’s Massachusetts state swim championship at M.I.T, the front of the New York Times sports page that morning was dominated by reporter Karen Crouse’s “Boys Swimming on Girls Teams Find Success, Then Draw Jeers." The prospect of boys and girls competing on the same team and in the same contests has suddenly become controversial at the Times. But why now?
During his first-period broadcast Monday, the Norwood High athletic director Brian McDonough congratulated Will Higgins for breaking the meet record in the 50-yard freestyle the previous day at the Massachusetts South Division fall swimming and diving championships.
McDonough chose not to mention that it was a girls swimming championship.
Higgins, a senior, and Rodriguez, a sophomore, are among roughly two dozen boys competing on girls teams in Massachusetts because their schools do not have boys swimming programs. They are able to do so because of the open access amendment to the state constitution, which was voted into law in the 1970s and mandates that boys and girls must be afforded equal access to athletics.
Boys have been members of girls swim teams since the 1980s, but until recently they were mostly a sideshow. It has only been in the last year or two that boys have swum well enough to draw attention -- and people’s ire. The epicenter of the debate is the 50-yard freestyle, an event in which strength can trump talent or technique.
After years of hailing the federal Title IX ruling that mandates equal opportunity for women in school athletics (and resulted in some schools shutting down marginal boys sports like wrestling), and for the inclusion of women on boys teams, the Times now turns around and sympathizes with girls who want boys to be barred from competing with them, despite the right of boys to compete apparently enshrined in the constitution of the true-blue liberal state of Massachusetts.
Sarah Hooper, a senior at Needham High who is the fourth-fastest female entrant, finds the situation difficult to swallow.
“It’s really frustrating to see how athletic directors and school administrators aren’t doing anything,” she said. “They really aren’t advocating for us. I understand there isn’t an opportunity for these boys, but it infuriates me that they can’t combine two schools’ boys to create one team or have them compete in separate heats. The way it is now, the boys are taking recognition away from girls who have worked hard and deserve it.”
With every stroke they take, the boys are displacing more than water. They could knock girls off the awards podium and make it harder for girls to qualify for All-Star honors and the postseason. Perhaps predictably, they also are altering the dynamic on the pool deck, with swimmers lining up to cheer not just for their teams but for their gender.
Crouse offered rationalizations on why having girls on boys teams is unobjectionable, but having boys compete on a girls team is a newsworthy controversy.
Over the years, there have been girls wrestling on boys teams or playing football or ice hockey. Boys have been on field hockey teams and girls have competed alongside boys in golf.
But in wrestling, boys and girls of the same weight compete against each other. And in field hockey and other team sports, a boy on a girls team achieves success through cooperation and collaboration with his teammates. When Higgins won the 50 freestyle at the South Division sectional meet, he did so at the expense of Kate Vanasse of Westwood High, who was second.
Crouse concluded with a plea from the coach of Andover High’s swim team to “take action” against the boys to deprive any boy winner of a medal. Her concern turned out overwrought, as a girl narrowly beat a boy in the 50-yard freestyle at Saturday’s meet.