All she wants is a fair shot.
Anyela Aquino, the volleyball phenom fighting for a roster spot on the boys’ varsity team at her Bronx high school, says the best player should be the one who makes the team.
“If you want to be a starter you have to fight for it,” says Anyela, who is trying to play for the Taft boys’ team this spring after having led the girls’ team to a city title earlier in the school year.
The team’s coach and boys’ players have supported her bid, but the Public School Athletic League has blocked it.
The 17-year-old senior says she hasn’t gotten some unfair advantage over the boys, except that she’s been devoted to the sport for 10 years.
The PSAL says they’re devoted to increasing opportunities for students. Letting a girl play for both teams in the same sport during a school year would theoretically reduce a boy’s opportunity at Taft, a high school twelve blocks north of Yankee Stadium.
“Anybody can take my position, but they should have to fight for it,” says Anyela, who plays libero, a defensive specialist position.
The PSAL, overseen by the Department of Education, recently expanded the number of girls’ teams at high schools across the city. The group oversees sports programs involving more than 40,000 students.
“Our goal is to provide the maximum number of opportunities for students across New York City to play on sports teams and take part in a transformative experience that strengthens school communities,” says Toya Holness, a Department of Education spokesperson.
“Are the boys afraid of losing to a girl?” asked New York civil rights attorney Elizabeth Saylor of the PSAL’s move.
Saylor said federal law (Title IX) allows for girls to be excluded from a boys’ team if the school already has a girls’ team. Such is the case at the Taft Educational Campus, where Aquino was the star of the city-champion girls volleyball team last fall. Aquino wants to play with the boys’ team her senior spring.
Saylor says the local law guiding PSAL is not clear on whether the 17-year-old Aquino is entitled to play for her school’s boys team this spring.
“Regardless of the legality, excluding her from the boys’ team makes no sense. I see no logical justification to exclude her,” says Saylor, a partner at Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff, and Abady LLC. “If City law does permit this, I urge the City Council to pass a law mandating that girls may try out for and play on boys’ teams if they are otherwise qualified.”
The Department of Education has made vigorous strides in promoting girls’ participation in the PSAL. Last spring, the city expanded the PSAL’s budget by $4 million to $32.4 million, significantly increasing the number of girls teams in underserved schools.
Aquino has not yet appealed the PSAL’s decision. The varsity boys volleyball season has already begun and lasts through May 3.
New York attorney Daniel Szalkiewicz says the school followed procedures laid out in its eligibility policy for mixed teams.