Come the fall, girls will be allowed to play full contact football with boys on Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) teams in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the archdiocesan Communications Office announced March 14 in a statement.
Despite the recommendation of an expert panel to continue the current CYO policy that prohibits girls from playing football, Archbishop Charles Chaput decided to allow girls to participate after also weighing feedback from individuals who were “both critical and supportive of the policy,” said the statement.
He also considered factors such as “the expectations of coaches, parents and pastors, common current practice, legal circumstances and the CYO polices” of other dioceses.
The panel consisted of coaches, parents, pastors and experts in sports medicine and pediatrics, which was formed earlier this year to review CYO rules on gender participation.
“By a wide majority,” the statement said, “members voted to continue the policy as written.”
(See related story: New panel to study girls playing football, management of CYO system)
The decision to allow girls to play football is “provisional,” according to the statement, and may be revised in coming seasons “as judged appropriate by the Archdiocese.”
The process that led to Thursday’s decision stemmed from the controversy over Caroline Pla, an 11-year-old girl who played with her Doylestown-based CYO football team last season in violation of the organization’s rules.
The Archdiocese said the policy banning girls’ participation reflected concerns over “the distinct needs and abilities of male and female athletes and to ensure safety,” the statement said.
But because of the ban the Archdiocese also faced a possible discrimination law suit under the federal Title IX statute that aims to open up opportunities for girls to play sports.
“Alternate options” to girls’ participation in football that were studied by the panel, according to the Archdiocese, “had merit and may be revisited in the future to ensure that any CYO sports program fosters an enjoyable and safe atmosphere providing for proper human formation, sportsmanship and Christian maturity.”
One of those options may be flag football, which eliminates tackling and reduces the risk of concussion and other trauma from full-contact football.
The light-contact version of the sport is offered in other dioceses including those in Texas and Southern California.