BY ALEXANDRA HAYNES | ILLUSTRATION BY ACE BRADLEY | COLOR EFFECTS BY BAILEY PAUL
Boys playing volleyball? Not in Nebraska. Freshman Matthew Perl is a volleyball player, but he is not on Papio South’s team because he’s a boy. Other states permit male entrance to volleyball teams, but Nebraska does not.
Not in Nebraska
“We had talked to staff on parent night and were told that guys can’t try out at all because of Title IX,” Perl said. He was also given another reason – that boys are physically stronger. If Nebraska doesn’t allow males to play because of their strength, how do the other states keep their co-ed teams fair? “They have regulations for the boys to play in the back row or play until the team hits state and then not participate for competitions,” Perl said. “I’d be fine with that.”
Perl feels that the current lack of policy at home is unjust. He has played on a volleyball team before and has lots of previous sport affiliations, including swimming and basketball. Perl finds it cutting to not be able to participate in the sport of his choice.
But what exactly is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law covering nationwide policy on gender discrimination. It was designed to allow for better inclusion of females in sports. “Girls, generally, are underrepresented,” activities director Jeremy Van Ackeren said. “It gives girls the same opportunities and same kind of experiences as boys. Title IX does not work the other way.”
When athletic programs in some schools are dominated by male orientated sports, girls might not have as many opportunities. Title IX allows a girl to play on a boys team if there is not an equivalent all-girls team for that sport. It does not allow a boy to play on a girls team when there are more male teams altogether in a school (even if they don’t have a male equivalent for that specific sport). This is why Perl was turned away.
Raising the Net
In states that allow boys to play on girls volleyball teams, the nets are raised higher to accommodate for the differing ability by sex. “The other teams that don’t have boys don’t want to play against them because they’ll have to raise the net,” Van Ackeren said. “And if the boys have to play in the back row, they don’t get to hit.” With regulations not making the system perfect, there isn’t necessarily a fair solution to allow boys to play on a girls volleyball team.
Why classify ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ teams?
There are real physical differences between girls and boys. It isn’t that one sex is physically better than the other but that the biology of either sex is better suited to different abilities and has a differing range of skill. “Boys typically jump higher,” Van Ackeren said. This is one of the real reasons the net is raised for co-ed volleyball.
There has been much academic debate about the differing strengths between males and females in hopes of defining it. As of yet, no clear answers exist. The authors of the book “Playing With the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal,” Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano, argue that “coercive sex segregation does not reflect actual sex differences in athletic ability,” implying that the gendered teams that exist today aren’t designed to better fit each sex but are just to keep them apart. There are reasons people may want separate teams – personal comfort, and what they have been raised to expect – that gender, especially in sports, is a dividing line that shouldn’t be crossed.
Gender vs. Sex
What makes a girl a girl and a boy a boy? Gender is in the mind and sex is biology. “Girl teams” and “boy teams”, then, are supposed to be defined as such because of physical differences – that means they’re separated by sex, not by gender. But for students whose sex doesn’t line up with their gender, transgender individuals, this means they don’t have a place to play in sport at all.
Senior Sam Unverzagt is ready for this to change. “Being transgender and extremely athletic, I didn’t find a team where I found myself comfortable. You can’t really find that if you don’t fit with people of your biological sex,” Unverzagt said. “I think that anyone should be able to play a sport, no matter their gender.”
The NSAA is currently coming up with a policy regarding transgender students to rectify this issue. Unverzagt wishes it would have happened sooner to give him a rightful place to play.
A Final Thought
“This is all something to look at. Matthew’s situation makes you revaluate where we stand on this, especially with Title IX,” Van Ackeren said.