A group of 10-year-olds in New Jersey decided to forfeit the rest of their basketball season rather than play without their female teammates, who had been kicked off the team by the league.
On Friday night, referees for the Catholic Youth Organization league in Clark, N.J. refused to take the court because two girls had suited up for their St. John’s fifth-grade team. To decide on how it should proceed, the team held a sideline vote, and NJ.com reported the result was unanimous:
“Is your decision to play the game without the two young ladies on the team, or do you want to stay as a team as you have all year?” asked parent Matthew Dohn. “Show of hands for play as a team?”
Eleven hands shot up in unison. No one raised a hand when asked the alternative.
Assistant coach Keisha Martel, who is also the mom of one of the girls, Kayla Martel, reminded the team of the consequences. They had been told that playing the girls would mean the rest of the season would be forfeited.
“But if the girls play, this will be the end of your season. You won’t play in the playoffs,” she warned.
“It doesn’t matter,” one boy replied and others echoed, before the team began to chant, “Unity!”
Two weeks earlier, the team, which had been playing together for four years, was informed that it shouldn’t have been co-ed in the first place. Per NJ.com, parents said the team was also told it would have to vacate its previous records because the girls were playing “illegally.” NJ.com reported that the refs said League Director Rich Donovan had instructed them not to call the game if the girls were playing. (We’ve called and emailed Donovan and will update if we hear back.)
According to the AP, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark said league rules stipulate that teams cannot be co-ed, and the St. John’s athletic director “admitted he made a mistake in allowing the team to exist the way it did.”
To the team, though, its existence is no mistake. Kayla Martel, one of the girls on the team, told NJ.com about the team’s “bond” and its decision to forfeit.
“It has a big impact on me because it shows that they care. I’m part of them just as they’re part of me and they don’t want to break that bond just like I don’t want to break that bond,” she said, adding, “I think the rules are ridiculous.”
NJ.com also noted that there is “no mention of whether the teams in the St. John’s team’s division - the JV black league - can or cannot be co-ed, though other divisions are mentioned as strictly boys or girls teams.”
While the team may have been in violation of regulations, it’s far more egregious that the league couldn’t find a compromise to allow the girls to at least finish out the season. After all, sports are—at their very best—about loyalty, persistence, and teamwork. These kids, at least, get that.