Philadelphia archdiocese denies talented girl spot in CYO football for fear of 'inappropriate touching'

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia won’t let girls play on the Catholic Youth Organization football teams. (Getty Images)
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia won’t let girls play on the Catholic Youth Organization football teams. (Getty Images)

Brooke Choi is by all accounts a proud 12-year-old offensive lineman. She grew up in a football-loving family, so much so that her mother calls herself a “football widow” during the fall while her husband coaches and her son and daughter take the field.

Brooke has three years of football experience and beat out 22 boys for a roster spot on teams that won two championships in the league in which she used to play.

Yet Brooke is different from her teammates. Brooke is at the age where being a girl on the gridiron starts to become a “thing.” In this instance, it’s an issue for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which reversed a short-lived policy in 2014 that allowed for co-ed CYO football teams.

In doing so, the archdiocese is back in the spotlight for again denying a talented, passionate player a chance to play in its organization as profiled Monday by Brian Hickey of PhillyVoice.

Archdiocese fears ‘inappropriate touching’ could take place

Suzanne Choi attempted to sign her daughter up for the four-parish-wide Chester County Crusaders team the first week of August, but was cut short at the gender portion.

In a statement by Crusaders board president Edward Caporellie to the PhillyVoice, the Chois were told girls can’t register for tackle football by archdiocesan rule and that neither the team nor the district could overturn that decision.

Guy Fardone is the Crusaders coach and said he wants to see girls play football, specifically Brooke because of her talent and passion. He said he supports the family, adding they “still don’t know why” she can’t play, and made her an honorary captain for the season opener.

“When I was first helping Brooke try to play, they said she couldn’t because she could get hurt. I’d be more concerned about a 65-pound-boy getting hurt. Brooke was one of the more aggressive players on the team,” he told Philly Voice. “Then, they came back with the ‘inappropriate touching’ statement.”

As Suzanne continued to ask questions up the ladder, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said girls could not play because they feared “inappropriate touching” could take place.

That’s what has received the most frustration with Suzanne, who noted her daughter has never had that happen and there aren’t locker rooms at that level, and seemingly the most anger from others watching.

Are there others supporting her quest to play?

Mickey Grace was the first girl to carry the ball in a Philadelphia Public League football game in the late 2000s and interned with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past preseason. Her comments to the Philly Voice put the issue into context with current events.

She saw the prohibition through a different lens, noting that the Archdiocese should be “adamant about making sure they raise integrity-filled people and men” instead of barring girls from the sport.

“That’s the social role of football: Teaching discipline. Being self-motivated and team-oriented,” said Grace, who faced a lot more pushback when she played than Brooke has faced. “They’re robbing her of that opportunity because they’re worried someone else will not have any integrity.

Brooke has the support of the Crusaders coach as well as former coach Tom Kucera, who gave full confidence she could “defend herself” in a league that he said was a few notches below the one she played in formerly. Grace, of course, supports her as does Caroline Pla, the only girl to play in the CYO.

She played in sixth, seventh and eighth grade before the Archdiocese reversed its co-ed ruling.

How does Title IX play into this?

Title IX states that no person shall be excluded on the basis of sex and applies to institutions that receive federal funding. In terms of athletics, it outlines a three-part test that requires schools to follow any of the three options:

  • Provide opportunities proportionate to enrollment numbers

  • Demonstrate a continued expansion of opportunities for the underrepresented sex

  • Accommodate interests and abilities of underrepresented sex

Suzanne was told the law would be on their side because the archdiocese accepts federal money for its lunch programs. Plus there is precedent in the Mercer vs. Duke University case, which barred places from making an exemption if it hadn’t before.

In this case, Pla was allowed to play. So the argument is why is Choi (and Pla as an eighth-grader) is suddenly not allowed?

More girls are taking the field around the country

People love to comment on the decline of football participation. Kids leave the sport for varied reasons, from concussion concerns to sport specialization to increased offerings during the autumn season.

While Brooke’s issue is at the youth level, the statistics at the high school level are telling. While less boys are playing 11-player football year-after-year, the number of girls has nearly doubled. And while that number doesn’t come close to making up for the number of boys who have left, it helps keep the decrease percentage lower.

Most importantly it shows girls want to play this sport and are increasingly receiving the support and opportunities they deserve to have.

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