In early May, an Arizona team won a state baseball title by default when its scheduled opponent refused to play a game against a team fielding a girl in its infield. Now, the girl who unintentionally brought national attention to her school has spoken out about what inspired her to play a boys' sport: Her school's female football coach.
As noted by ESPN, Mesa (Ariz.) Preparatory Academy second baseman Paige Sultzbach, whose squad earned the Arizona Charter Athletic Association state title, was able to look up to the Mesa Prep football coach and athletic director, Amy Arnold, when she walked in to Arnold's office and asked if she could sign up for baseball, despite the fact that she's a girl.
Arnold, who is one of only two female head football coaches in the nation, was predictably bullish about Sultzbach's participation in baseball thanks to Title IX.
"She came to me before the season and asked if she could join the team," Arnold told ESPN. "I told her, 'Absolutely. Title IX says that if we don't offer a sport for girls, they have to right to play on the boys' team.' That very night I got an e-mail alert notifying me Paige had registered for baseball. She was the first to sign up.
"Paige absolutely earned the right to play," said Arnold. "We're all very proud of her."
Sultzbach, who is a junior, went on to become a stalwart for Mesa Prep's state title-winning squad in all but two games: the team's two matchups with Phoenix (Ariz.) Our Lady of Sorrows School, which is the team which refused to compete against Mesa Prep in the state final.
That rejection still bothers both Sultzbach and her teammates, though Arnold said she and her counterpart at Our Lady of Sorrows had put aside any differences between the schools after the event.
Meanwhile, Sultzbach is planning to return to softball during the summer before a fall foray into volleyball and, you guessed it, another round of baseball in spring 2013. Given her first experience with baseball and the state title she and Mesa Prep rightly earned, it doesn't sound like she would have it any other way.
"I really wanted to thank my teammates, coaches and their families for being so supportive and for treating me as just one of the guys," Sultzbach told ESPN. "They respect me -- not as a girl player, just a baseball player -- and I appreciate that.
"It's been pretty hectic. But it's been fun."