Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Separate Golf Tournament Is Not Equal Under Mass. Constitution

A Superior Court judge in Springfield, Massachusetts ruled this week that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association unlawfully discriminated against Lindsey Thomka, a high school golfer, by not letting her compete individually against boys at the Division I state championship golf tournament in October 2005. Thomka plays on her high school's boys' team, which has a fall season, because her high school does not offer a separate team for girls. The MIAA allowed her to participate in the season-ending tournament and counted her score as part of her team's. But the MIAA would not also count Thomka's score toward the individual competition, as it did with the scores of the other, male participants.

According to a press release by the ACLU, which represented Thomka, the MIAA defended that it could lawfully bar Thomka from the individual competition at the fall tournment because it offers a separate, girls' tournament in the spring. But the judge ruled that the spring tournament was not equivalent of the fall tournament, in terms of "the level of competition, the coaching made available, the opportunity to practice, to the ability to compete for college scholarships." And in Thomka's case, a spring tournament does not coincide with her team's fall season.

The complaint and the judge's decision focused on the state constitution's Equal Rights Amendment rather than Title IX. In 1979, the Supreme Judicial Court held that this constitutional provision protected boys' rights to play on girls' field hockey teams. As a result, the rights of coed sports participants receive strong protection under state constitutional law--at least as much protection as Title IX affords to coed participants in noncontact sports like golf.

The judge has yet to specify the remedy that will satisfy Thomka's claims for prospective relief. He may require the MIAA to allow Thomka full participation in next fall's tournament, or he may require MIAA to modify and enhance the existing spring tournament. A hearing on the remedy issue will take place in March.


Aaron Matthews said...

I think its great if she plays under the same rules. If they use a handicap system, the point is mute, but if they allow her to use the short box, then she gets an advantage the boys don't have.

I think its time to stop the gender based sports. Each sport should have weight divisions or hight divisions. That way large girls can play with large boys and small boys can play with small girls.

EBuz said...

From the article it appears that she did she used the same tee as the boys when she played the course toward her team's score. The court has not yet addressed whether a short box accomodation would be required in the future.

I think you're right that in we over-rely on sex as a proxy for size and strength. A gender-neutral handicap system would seem to be the way to go.