School board: Girl golfer can’t play on Aspen boys squad
Aspen’s Kristin Walla has proven what she can do against the girls.But barring some unforeseen development – such as action by Colorado’s governing body of prep athletics, an about-face by the Aspen School District or a lawsuit – the standout golfer will not get the chance to see how she stacks up against the boys, at least at the high school level.The Aspen High senior’s request to play with the AHS boys team, now well under way in its fall season, was refused once more by officials from the Aspen School District and the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) on Monday.Last night, Walla’s parents, John and Jeannie, appeared before the Aspen School Board to make a last appeal, or, as John Walla put it, “a last-minute fatherly prayer.”After a matter of minutes, Jeannie Walla left the meeting in tears.”Shame on some of these people,” said John Walla, referring to school officials, “because Kristin never got a chance.” CHSAA rules bar girls from playing on a boys team if the school offers a girls team in the same sport, which is the case with golf at AHS. And school district officials, while sympathetic to Walla’s predicament, said they are not willing to terminate the 2-year-old AHS girls team, which plays in the spring, in order to accommodate Walla.Whether Aspen can actually field a girls golf team this spring, however, remains subject to angry debate, at least for the parent of another AHS girls golfer.
Furthermore, CHSAA is not willing to grant Aspen a waiver that would enable Walla, 17, to play with the boys while maintaining an AHS girls team, said CHSAA assistant commissioner Tom Robinson.Said Aspen Superintendent Diana Sirko: “We don’t want to limit Kristin’s opportunities, or any other girl’s, but unfortunately within the CHSAA bylaws, there’s no provisions to do both. We’re not trying to be the barrier; we’re following the rules.”I was part of the generation that pushed Title IX,” Sirko continued, referring to the landmark amendments of 1972 that ban sex discrimination in school academics or athletics.”Philosophically, I have no problem with it, but we do have a legal obligation to follow the rules.”Jenny Suh, a sophomore golfer at Furman University in South Carolina, went through a similar ordeal in her hometown of Fairfax, Va. And as a high school senior in 2002, Suh, now 19, won the Virginia boys high school state championship.”Been there, done that,” Suh said in an interview yesterday. “I know what it’s like to be discriminated against as a girl golfer.”I say, if a girl wants to play with the boys, and if the girls team is not up to her ability or she’s just clobbering the field, give her a chance. Why not?”There’s definitely going to be more of this,” Suh added. “In fact, I think it’s just beginning.”But the rules, at least in Colorado, according to Robinson, are clear and unbending.
“We’re not stopping her from participating in golf,” he said, “but we’re saying there is a girls team she can participate with. It’s not like there’s an opportunity being denied.”Walla is a three-time Class 4A Western Slope League tournament champion and three-time top-10 finisher in the state tournament for Aspen High. She is also, as of this month, the Colorado Women’s Golf Association Junior Stroke Play champion.Walla wants to play with the boys team in hopes of elevating her own game by playing against better fields on longer courses. She is an aspiring Division I college golfer.Walla also said she never meant to undermine the AHS girls team – which has suffered from low numbers in its two years, fielding between three and five players last spring depending on the tournament.”We’re not trying to pull the rug out on any of the other girls,” John Walla told the school board last night.Board members did discuss the possibility of combining the girls golf team with Basalt High School, a scenario Walla played under as a freshman, as that would open the door for her to play with the boys. But in the end the board rendered no decision benefiting Walla, and instead discussed the possibility of penning a letter to CHSAA commenting on the rigidity of the rules.Wayne Floyd, father of AHS junior Liz Floyd, a teammate of Walla’s on the girls team, was angry yesterday – with Kristin Walla, with her parents and with Alden Richards, a longtime coach of Floyd’s and Walla’s and the executive director of Aspen Junior Golf, based on comments in an article yesterday.”She’s thinking only of herself,” he said of Walla, “and her agenda. It’s the most selfish attitude that I’ve ever seen displayed by an Aspen High athlete since I’ve been involved with the school through my daughter.”Liz Floyd declined to comment last night.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest to have [Walla] remain on the [girls] golf team. I think it’s counterproductive. She needs to hire an agent, quit high school and get a bigger hat for her head,” Floyd continued.But Suh, the Virginia champ, questioned any logic of exclusion on any level for any reason. Still, for the 2003 season, the rules changed in Virginia.”I was furious with all the rules and exceptions and talk,” Suh said, “and I still get comments from people saying, ‘Well, now why can’t boys play for the girls team?’ And I don’t really now how to answer that. I mean, get real. It’s not a two-way street, I guess. It’s a one-way street. History shows us that much.”Suh is among a handful of women golfers in recent history to cross over to the ranks of boys and men and compete. According to officials from the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), Duke University golfer Elizabeth Janangelo played for a boys team in high school in Hartford, Conn. Eight years ago, current LPGA player Vicki Goetze-Ackerman won the Georgia high school boys state championship by five strokes. Both Janangelo and Goetze-Ackerman went to high schools without girls golf teams.Still, according to AJGA chief operating officer Peter Ripa, more and more women are seeking out more competitive realms.”We honor that desire to play at a higher level,” he said, “which is why we never schedule junior events in conflict with opens or amateurs anymore. And that’s just in the last five years.”It’s the nature of the game, and the depth of talented junior girls, just by sheer numbers, isn’t the same as boys. A young man could travel 30 or 40 miles and play against competition at his level, whereas young ladies may have to travel 200 or 300 miles just to test themselves against their level of competition.”In the meantime, Kristin Walla played a pro-am tournament downvalley yesterday at Aspen Glen, while the AHS boys competed in a tournament at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale. Results on how Walla fared and how the field was divided were not available.
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