Judge clears way for NJ girl to play on Catholic school’s boys team
SCOTCH PLAINS — Sydney Phillips is looking forward to playing for the St. Theresa's boys basketball team after a season on the bench and in a court room.
Judge David Kessler reversed his initial decision and allowed the 13-year-old girl to play on the team during their final game on Sunday. Her parents sued the school after officials refused to allow her on the boys team when her girls team was disbanded.
His ruling was influenced by Newark Archbishop Joseph Tobin's decision earlier in the week to allow two girls to continue to play on the St. John's boys team in Clark, which had become embroiled in their own roster problem.
Two girls at St. John's were removed from the team mid-season after the Catholic Youth Organization insisted that co-ed teams were not allowed. As a result, the team had to forfeit their season record. The team also chose to forfeit the rest of their season rather than play without their two teammates.
Tobin ruled that the team "should not have been penalized for mistakes that adults responsible for following the league rules may have made" and said the team could remain in tact for the remainder of the season and have its record restored.
Under federal anti-discrimination laws, public schools that accept federal dollars have to allow girls to try out for a boys team if there is no girls team at the school for that sport. Girls have been trying out and playing with boys on high school football teams in New Jersey for decades.
After Sydney's parents sued, and lost in the first round, St. Theresa's expelled her and her younger sister Kaitlyn, citing a school rule that allows officials to expel students whose parents sue the school.
After an appeal, a Superior Court judge ordered the Phillips sisters back to school pending a court hearing. But Tobin this week reversed the expulsion, saying that the girls were welcome to finish out the school year. Tobin also asked Catholic school officials to stop enforcing the expulsion rule.
"She loves St. Theresa's and she can't wait to play for them," Sydney's father, Scott Phillips, told New Jersey 101.5. "That's all she wanted to do. That's what this is all about. She wants to play for the only school she's been to since pre-K. The only school she's known."
Scott Phillips said Sydney is already studying the team's playbook and will be ready for the game.
Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness, in a statement to NJ.com, said the archdiocese would abide by Kessler's ruling.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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