She wants to play basketball with the boys — and she’s suing for the chance
KENILWORTH — Sydney Phillips loves being on the basketball court. It's where the 12-year-old feels at home.
"I just love the rush and the challenges of the game," she told New Jersey 101.5 guest hosts Michele Pilenza and Jeff Edelstein when she called into the station Thursday night. "I love making new experiences."
But this year, the Scotch Plains pre-teen is doing without those challenges, without those experiences. As a sixth-grader, last year, she'd been a point guard on the girls team for the St. Theresa's School in Kenilworth. She ended the season as an all-star player. This year, the school is doing without a girls team. And it has refused Sydney's push to be placed on the only basketball team left — they boys team.
Her family has filed a lawsuit, seeking to let her play alongside the boys — but her father, Scott Phillips, told New Jersey 101.5 Friday he'd rather have never taken the matter that far.
"I don't like the word lawsuit," he said. "We're not suing for anything, not suing for money."
But he said even after taking the matter up with school officials and their supervisors at the Archdiocese of Newark, he was simply told: "Boys play with boys, and girls play with girls."
"I've asked, if it's your policy, show it to me in writing. Nowhere, from the school to the archdiocese, have they done that," he said.
The school and archdiocese could not be reached by New Jersey 101.5 Friday, but have declined requests from other media to comment on the matter.
As a parochial school, St. Theresa's isn't subject to the same Title IX gender-equity regulations that apply to public schools and private schools that receive federal funds for lunch programs. But Scott Phillips argued the school's policy is inconsistent and unfairly excluding his daughter — who, he said, would be stronger than many of the boys already on the no-cut, everyone-plays team.
Sydney has been playing basketball since she's been about two or three years old, he said. She's taken up soccer and softball as well, but basketball is her love.
St.Theresa's has a coed volleyball program, Scott Phillips said. It has a coed basketball clinic as well, he said. And none of that has ever caused problems, he said.
He said school officials have told him they're worried Sydney could get hurt.
"I told them it happens. She broke her thumb playing soccer. That's a risk you take with sports," he said.
Several callers to New Jersey 101.5 Thursday night said they support Sydney's quest to play alongside male teammates — as did Pilenza and Edelstein.
"I love how confident she is," Pilenza said. "You have to be."
Caller John from Montgomery, a wrestling coach, said girls and women are increasingly involved in aggressive sports — citing the growth in popularity of mixed martial arts fighting, and its female standout athletes such as Ronda Rousey.
"The 12-year-old girl, or a girl that's in the high school — she should absolutely go out and compete and play with the boys," he said.
Caller Kristin in Elizabeth said her own daughter also attends St. Teresa's, and also has no way to play basketball this year.
"Sydney is an amazing athlete, and her love is basketball," Kristin said.
The hosts asked: If she tried out, would she be competitive with the boys?
"Oh yeah, without a doubt. ... Sydney is a great athlete, and it's her life. " Kristin said. "When it comes to basketball, she's it."
But Rocky from Bergen County told the hosts he's concerned about intermingling boys and girls in sports.
"I don't want to sound sexist or anything," he said. "I think there's somebody from the top trying to make our society as genderless as possible, and I just don't agree with that whole idea. I think there's definite characteristics between a man and a woman ... and that should be respected."
Jerry from Edison worried that by the time a lawsuit is complete, Sydney could miss her chance to play. Plus, he said, he worries other players will look at her as "the girl who sued," not someone who belongs on the team.
But Sydney's father argued not only would she be an asset to the team — she wouldn't keep anyone else from playing because of the no-cut policy.
"The only thing she'd be hurting is some of the other boys' egos," he said.
He's anticipating a court decision on Jan. 5. Sydney has missed four games this season, but her father is optimistic she could join the team later in the month.
"I told her no matter what happens on Jan. 5, no matter what the judge decides ... you are a winner, no matter what," Scott Phillips said.
More from New Jersey 101.5: