If you live in Missouri, or countless other states in America, too bad. That’s what happened to high school sophomore Matthew Bozdech. When he asked to play, the school refused his request.
Matt Bozdech is 15. He has braces and brown hair. He likes video games. He’s a fairly typical teen boy, except for the field hockey thing. He started playing several years ago, moving from the ice version to the grass one, and kept at it, even though the sport is widely considered a girls game in the United States.
Now, Matt wants to play field hockey for his school, Eureka High. But the school only has a girls team. No school in Missouri, or for hundreds of miles around, has a boys team. So what’s a boy to do?
It’s a question that has been posed in just a few states — and never before in Missouri. Nationwide, fewer than 300 boys played field hockey in high school in 2012-13, compared to nearly 62,000 girls, according to one survey. So when boys do play, they almost always play on girls teams. Matt and his father asked Rockwood School District to give him a chance. He would play with the girls. He didn’t mind. Rockwood said no.
But the Bozdechs did not let it stand there. They filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging Matt was discriminated against because he’s a boy, and was retaliated against for complaining about his exclusion. Earlier this year, the federal agency said it would investigate the allegations.
This is the flip side of the debate over Title IX, the 1972 law that bars gender discrimination in school programs. Along the way, Title IX revolutionized sports programs by requiring equal playing opportunities for boys and girls, men and women. Title IX has changed public perceptions — erasing the novelty of girls sports and leading to fewer raised eyebrows when a girl tries to play football or wrestle with the boys.
But a boy trying to play on a girls team is still viewed differently. It raises other, less clear questions about what is fair. “I still like my school. I still support the team,” Matt said. “I just want to play.”
Girls field hockey enjoys strong support in St. Louis, with summer camps and year-round clubs. Many area schools have teams. Catholic schools tend to excel at it. In the Rockwood School District, the largest in the St. Louis County with 21,500 students, all four high schools have girls field hockey teams.
Before Matt even reached high school, Bozdech, who works as principal at Loyola Academy in St. Louis, talked with Eureka officials about his son playing field hockey. He asked if Matt could join the team, and he was told no. He then asked if Matt could help manage and practice with the team. That offer was turned down, too. When Matt was a freshman, Bozdech asked again. Same response.
This was in 2012. At the same time, in Smithtown, N.Y., a boy named Keeling Pilaro was making national headlines for fighting and winning the right to play on his high school’s girls field hockey team. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Bozdech recalled thinking.
But, in Missouri, Matt couldn’t even get near the field.
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