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May 1, 2012 11:00 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Pilaro Family Vows To Keep Up Fight For Son To Play Field Hockey

May 1, 2012 11:14 AM

Keeling Pilaro, the 13-year-old boy who earned All-Conference honors playing for the Southampton field hockey team last season, has been told by Section XI—Suffolk County’s governing body of high school sports—that he is no longer allowed to be a member of the girls team.

Since that decision was handed down by the section’s Mixed Competition Committee after a hearing on March 30, Pilaro, his family and the Southampton School District have been immersed in a firestorm of media attention and find themselves entrenched in a battle to have the decision overturned.

Pilaro was granted an appeal and another audience with Section XI, which took place on April 16, but the initial decision was upheld. Pilaro will meet once more with the section for a final appeal on May 15, and his family has requested an independent panel for that hearing. If the decision is not overturned, the family is considering legal action, according to Pilaro’s mother, Fairley Pilaro.

The Pilaro family and Southampton varsity field hockey coach Kim Hannigan have been unsatisfied with the section’s explanation as to why they will not grant Pilaro permission to play what is considered predominantly a girls sport in this country. Section XI has effectively said that Pilaro is simply too skilled and talented, and that his skills and talents have had “an adverse effect on the opportunity for girls to participate successfully” in the sport. The committee contends that Pilaro’s presence on the team takes away opportunities from other females because his spot on the team, and in the starting lineup, would belong to another girl if he weren’t there. They also contend that his All-Conference award would have been given to another female player if he weren’t on the team, and that because high school field hockey is a girls sport, this amounts to an injustice.

Pilaro’s story and his family’s and school’s fight to keep him on team has garnered national attention. The Pilaros have been featured on a handful of news stations, including CBS, ABC, FOX, News 12 and CNN. Mrs. Pilaro said her family did not seek out the attention but is simply determined to do everything in their power to keep their son playing the sport he loves.

Fairley Pilaro and her husband, Andrew, began raising their family in Southampton, but Mr. Pilaro’s business took the family to Ireland when Keeling was just 2 years old. They moved back to the area only two years ago; as a result of his upbringing overseas, Keeling has a slight Irish brogue. Another result of his upbringing in Ireland was his discovery and subsequent passion for the sport of field hockey. In Ireland, as in much of the rest of the world, field hockey is a sport played by both men and women—its status as an Olympic sport for both genders is a testament to that, and even the United States has both men’s and women’s Olympic field hockey teams. Pilaro played on a boys field hockey team as a child in Ireland, and he wasn’t about to give it up when he moved back to Southampton.

Individual schools are left to decide if girls can play boys sports, and vice versa. But when a boy wants to play on an all-girls team, Section XI’s Mixed Competition Committee, made up of coaches and athletic directors from across the county, is tasked with determining, on an individual basis, “whether or not participation by a particular male student on a sport team organized for females would have a significant adverse effect upon the opportunity of females to participate successfully in that sport,” according to the Section XI handbook. There are detailed procedures that must be followed in such cases, including submission of information such as the male student’s height and weight, the number of girls trying out for that team, and an assessment from a school physician of the boy’s maturity and athletic prowess. The committee also reserves the right to conduct ongoing evaluations of the student.

The Pilaros initially were told by Section XI that they would have to have a special hearing each year to determine whether their son would be allowed to play on the all-girls team. In his first season at Southampton, Pilaro was a member of the junior varsity squad. Last year, he was approved by Section XI to play varsity and was a key player for Southampton in its run to the playoffs and a 10-6 record. Southampton was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Rocky Point, but Pilaro finished the season with a team-high 10 goals, as well as eight assists, and earned All-Conference honors.

The Pilaro family and varsity coach Hannigan were surprised when Keeling was not granted permission to play this year, and they say he is being unfairly punished for being talented. Because he stands at less than 5 feet tall and weighs less than 90 pounds, Ms. Pilaro says that a physical advantage over his female opponents isn’t an issue. She says that if her son was significantly larger than the rest of his teammates, they wouldn’t be making the case for him to play.

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In other schools, girls are allowed to wrestle because the school does not have a girls wrestling team. Some of these girls have won championships wrestling against the guys. Are these girls told they can't wrestle because they've become too good? Of course not.

Yet Section XI, for some reason, feels that this a just decision. Personally, I feel this is an outrageous decison and I hope that the Pilaro family takes this as far as it can go.
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on May 1, 12 10:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
Section II has had boys play on the girl's field hockey teams for many years, past and present. One team had a boy play this year and last year. Another team had a boy play several years ago -- he went on to play for the US Men's Field Hockey team and just retired from playing. Keeling should be allowed to play on the girl's team until a boy's league is created. I support him and his family 100%!
By nsea93 (39), Southampton on May 2, 12 1:10 AM
1 member liked this comment
My daughter, Tara, is a Senior, and one of several stand-out veteran members of the Southampton High School field hockey team and as a parent I have had the pleasure of watching Keeling play alongside his teammates on umpteen occasions. Field hockey is a team sport and to single out one player as being over-skilled does not merely diminish the roles played by the other team members, it downright acts as if they don’t exist. As in any team sport, the participants practice their plays over and ...more
By Lisa W (3), Southampton on May 2, 12 8:40 AM
2 members liked this comment
To Lisa W,just curious, do you think you would have made the play-offs without Keeling?
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on May 2, 12 7:50 PM
Absolutely, we made it the year before without him. This is a very strong team.
By bhf2627 (1), Southampton on May 3, 12 9:45 AM
Sorry Mets fan - I responded under my employers account in error - but yes, we have a strong team and made the playoffs the prior year without him.
By Lisa W (3), Southampton on May 3, 12 9:48 AM
Its just so annoying that if it was a girl wanting to play football on an all boys team no one would care and she would be allowed then the boys who feel like they dont want to hurt her would be told to bad deal with it. It just seems like its very uneven to me.
By Crankypants (34), SOUTHAMPTON on May 2, 12 9:25 AM
This is by far the most east i've ever seen put into a 27 east article... and it's about a boy playing field hockey.
By milkdilk (49), Southampton on May 2, 12 9:55 AM
east = effort
By milkdilk (49), Southampton on May 2, 12 9:55 AM
let him play!
By cabin fever (9), Hampton Bays on May 2, 12 1:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
You would think that Section Xi would talk to players and coaches and look at more than just one game against a weaker opponent before making a decison like this. It comes across as extremely short sighted and biased. I hope the Pilaro family not only wins the right for their son to play the game he loves but also that Section XI (their board members, to be specific) is
required to re-imburse both the family and/or school district for their lawyers' fees.
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on May 2, 12 3:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
When i look at the photos here and I see the size difference between the young boy and the players he's up against my eyes roll up inside my head and my mouth utters the words "what a bunch of goofballs.." He's taking whose place now? Ridiculous...Stick 'em Mom!
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on May 2, 12 3:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Perhaps it is time to stop labeling a team as "boys" or girls?"

One team, one boat, with each rower rowing in the same direction?

Funny, here we are in Earth Year 002,012 and there are so many gender-based preconceptions still struggling to stay afloat.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 2, 12 3:45 PM
PS -- Per V. Tomanoku, check the photos. Go get 'em Keeling and family!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 2, 12 3:49 PM
Come on Mr. Cinelli - you used to be such a fair guy. You're gonna look like some jerk when this kid makes the U.S. Olympic team and you denied him the right to play as a boy.

These are children, not professionals, open doors for them - don't shut them.

By bchgrl83 (52), Westhampton Beach on May 2, 12 5:16 PM
Sports Illustrated cover today is Title IX!!! How appropriate with the nonsense this committee has created!!!!! The Pilaro family has every right to appeal this ridiculous decision!!!! I bet if he didn't earn all-conference so panties wouldn't be so twisted!!! Go Keeling!!!
By tmcculley (4), Water Mill on May 2, 12 6:19 PM
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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By tmcculley (4), Water Mill on May 2, 12 6:20 PM
Sorry to post again on this, but you MUST check out the photos!

Mr. Keeling Pilaro (yes, the "Mr." may be a stretch) is no match size-wise to his team-mates. And yet he excels!

What is the problem here, except for the pea-brain preconceptions of the Section XI officials?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 2, 12 10:13 PM
First thing I noticed was that the banquet photo could have passed as, shall we say, Amazon in proportions?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 3, 12 7:46 PM
1 member liked this comment