BY MEG BUZBEE, CONTRIBUTOR
Ben Solberg, a junior, was the only boy out of 39 students who tried out for the Wilson field hockey team this year. He was denied a chance to play because his coaches thought opposing schools would forfeit if Wilson had a boy on their team. “This did not come down to Ben’s gender, though that was a consideration,” says Coach Sarah Whitener, who has led the field hockey team for five years now.
“Last year in gym we played floor hockey and I really liked it,” Solberg said. “And some of my friends who play on the team told me it was fun, and I should try out.”
The Wilson field hockey team was created several years ago, and plays public and private schools throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia.
“I think I did pretty well at tryouts,” Solberg said. “We did a mile run and I was one of the first people to finish. I felt confident.”
However, after the first day of tryouts Whitener approached Solberg and told him he couldn’t play on the team. “She said some of the other teams we would play might complain if I was on the team and could even forfeit,” Solberg said. Whitener suggested that Solberg find a boys field hockey team to play on if he was really serious about field hockey. There are, however, no boys recreational field hockey teams in the greater DC area. There are several adult leagues, but Solberg is not old enough to play in them. Besides, he said, “I’d rather play for my school.”
Coach Whitener had to cut 16-17 students who tried out for the field hockey team this year, and judged them on their experience, their skill and their grade level. She wanted to make sure that each grade was well represented on the team. “He would have definitely been the tallest, the fastest, and the strongest on the team, and so I would have understood if other teams did not want to play against him.”
Whitener also contacted three coaches of opposing teams to see if they would be willing to play against Wilson if Solberg was on the team. They all said they wouldn’t. “I stand by my decision,” Whitener stated.
When junior Mary Grace Arlotto, the captain of the field hockey team, heard that Solberg had not made the team, she was mad. “I asked the coach why he wasn’t allowed to play and she told me that he was too tall and too intimidating. I thought that was crazy.” Arlotto has been playing field hockey since middle school and first joined the Wilson team in 9th grade. “Ben came to all the tryouts, and he did really well,” she said. “He’s an amazing athlete and a great runner. He was much better than a lot of other people who tried out and deserved to make the team.”
Two years ago, several complaints were filed against the Wilson Athletic Department for spending more money and resources on boys sports than girls. Since then Wilson has strived to treat all sports teams equally and give fair opportunities to all who wish to try out for a team.
Title IX, a federal legislation passed in 1972, states that all schools must provide equal funding for boys and girls teams. Additionally, for all sports teams at Wilson, if there is not an equivalent team for the opposite gender, a student of that gender is supposed to be be given a fair chance to try out for that team. So if a girl wanted to play football she could try out and the coaches would have to give her a fair chance. Or, say, if a boy wanted to play field hockey, he would have to be given a fair opportunity too.