A 12-year-old girl will be able to try out for the boys’ football team at Liberty Union-Thurston Middle School, after the school district abruptly reversed direction tonight and said it would allow her to play.
The school board previously had said that Makhaela Jenkins would not be able to play football because it is a contact sport. The board made its decision after being approached by Makhaela’s family, who wanted her to be able to play.
The decision drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Ohio High School Athletic Association. More than 100 girls play on school football teams in Ohio, according to the OHSAA.
Officials for the Fairfield County district stood their ground, saying that nothing in federal law promised girls the right to play contact sports such as football.
The ACLU disagreed.
“Federal courts in Ohio have made it clear since the 1970s that if a girl wants to play football, and there is not an equivalent team for girls, she must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team,” ACLU lawyer Jennifer Martinez Atzberger told the Dispatch earlier this week.
Then, Friday night, district Superintendent Paul Mathews released a news release, saying that the district still believed it had the right to deny Makhaela the opportunity to play football, but that it would not waste tax dollars fighting a possible lawsuit.
“We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment,” Mathews wrote in part. “Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports.”
Makhaela’s family could not be reached for comment.
By Josh Jarman - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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