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Pennsylvania girl qualifies for boys' tennis tournament, rekindling state's gender debate

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally
Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny High senior Kylie Isaacs qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA boys' tennis tournament. (athletics.northallegheny.org)
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Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny High senior Kylie Isaacs qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA boys' tennis tournament. (athletics.northallegheny.org)

Pennsylvania continues to find itself at the center of the debate over preps playing for teams of the opposite gender. While the state's interscholastic athletic association is reportedly drafting new guidelines to curb boys' participation in traditional girls' sports like field hockey, Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny High senior Kylie Isaacs is only the latest in a string of girls to show they can hold their own against boys.

Isaacs qualified for the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League Class AAA boys' tennis tournament, keeping her hopes of becoming the second girl ever to win a WPIAL boys' title alive, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Leetsdale Quaker Valley's Annie Houghton won the Class AA crown in 2006.

Isaacs had qualified for the girls' singles tournament in the fall of each of her first three high school seasons, but opted to concentrate on USTA competition and personal training this past fall in order to best prepare herself for a college career at Duquesne University, according to the Post-Gazette.

Because Pennsylvania allows for preps to play one season of a sport regardless of gender, Isaacs tried out for the boys' tennis squad as her schedule became less arduous this year. She ultimately claimed North Allegheny's No. 1 singles position following an injury to star Kevin Goth, the Post-Gazette said.

And while another injury to Isaacs' brother Jared gifted her a default win in the sectional third-place match (top 3 finishers qualify for WPIAL play), she has only suffered two losses all season -- one to the reigning WPIAL bronze medalist and one in the sectional semifinals this week.

By any account, Isaacs is capable of contending with even the best boys. "Everyone was a little flustered at first and was wondering, 'Is this even legal with the school?'" Jared told the Post-Gazette. "But then she practiced with us and they realized, 'Wow, she's really good.' They knew she could help us."

Pennsylvania is no stranger to girls playing with boys. This past fall alone, a nearby South Allegheny senior girl served as the starting kicker for the football team and a Kimberton Waldorf School freshman girl emerged as the best soccer player on the boys' team.

But the state is also home to some of the more recent controversial instances of girls playing with boys and vice versa. Philadelphia's Catholic Youth Organization came under fire in January 2013 for banning an 11-year-old girl from playing football as a sixth-grader. Similarly, this past summer, a pair of Pittsburgh lawyers who had gown tired of watching their daughter play field hockey against boys won over a judge who ruled the PIAA could ban boys from playing with girls. There are apparently no Title IX implications so long as a school offers equal opportunities for both genders to participate in athletics.

All of this brings us to Eureka (Mo.) High sophomore Matt Bozdech, who has been banned from playing field hockey despite the lack of a boys' team at the school, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Rockwood School District officials believe they have every right to prevent Bozdech from playing the traditional girls' sport (at least in the U.S.) because the school offers an equal number of sports for boys and girls, but the 15-year-old's family has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

As Dave DeAngelis, whose son Christian is a member of the USA Field Hockey Men's Under-17 National Team and played for the Doylestown (Pa.) Central Bucks West girls' field hockey team this past fall, told the Post-Dispatch: "How is this not reverse discrimination? It's analagous to a girl playing football."

The debate is far from over, and somehow Pennsylvania continues to find itself at the center of it.

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