Idaho girl creates controversy by joining boys' lacrosse team
Boys' lacrosse is radically different (and more physical) than girls' lax
Maras may be a cheerleader, but she also really likes to hit people
A league board ruled against Maras joining the boys; now both sides have lawyers
Her name is Sara. She is a sophomore, and she is on the cheerleading squad. This is her first year at a new school, Borah High in Boise, Idaho, and like most girls her age, she did not plan to go against the flow. It just kind of happened that way.
It happened because Sara Maras is not just a cheerleader. She also likes to hit people. She's already 5-foot-8. When she was younger, she played basketball, which is not always a contact sport, but Sara essentially turned it into one. So when a coach at her old school, McCall High, started up a lacrosse team, she decided to try it out. That she was one of only two girls on the team (the other played goalie) didn't really bother her. That they played by the rules of boys' lacrosse rather than girls' lacrosse didn't really bother her, either. In fact, she liked it better that way because there was more contact (in boys' lacrosse, body checking is legal). Fewer players on a shorter field. More helmets. No skirts. In fact, when Sara did see the way girls' lacrosse was played, it didn't interest her much at all.
One day, while walking down the hallway at her new school with a fellow cheerleader, Sara saw a poster advertising boys' lacrosse tryouts. She'd signed up for the girls' team at Borah, but quickly decided it wasn't for her; she called the boys' coach, Erik Jones, and asked him if she could join the team. He told her to come down to practice. Youth lacrosse is a relatively new pastime in Boise -- it is still a club sport at most schools, not yet sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association -- and facing schools with more experienced players, Jones needed all the help he could get.
This is the story of how Sara Maras joined the boys' lacrosse team. In the beginning, everything was astoundingly easy; with a few exceptions, her male teammates accepted her without vocal protest, and once she explained why she wanted to play boys' lacrosse rather than girls' lacrosse -- and once she absorbed their hits during practice and struck back just as hard -- they totally understood. "If I were you," they said, "I'd probably do it, too.
"We trusted her more after that; we felt she was doing the right thing," said one of her teammates, Trevor Hopkins. "She was definitely better than a lot of kids on defense. There may have been some people who didn't fully accept her, but they didn't say anything out loud."
Yet the real problem was not with her classmates; the real problem arose when the adults got involved. Jones petitioned the board of the Treasure Valley Lacrosse League to allow Sara to play, citing the non-discrimination clause in his school's constitution. But in Sara, certain people, including many of the coaches and parents who make up the board, saw a troublesome precedent. They worried about her getting hurt, and they worried about boys being afraid to play at full speed, and they worried about dozens more girls choosing boys' lacrosse over girls' lacrosse -- an unlikely occurrence, but one that could weaken both sports. This is Idaho, an overwhelmingly conservative state, and Sara's petition, according to league commissioner Stephen Smith, raised all kinds of social and political red flags. In Idaho, according to the rules of the state high school athletic association, if you're a girl and a sport is offered for both boys and girls, then you are required to play the girls version of the sport.
"We're a fairly new sport, a club sport, but we try to follow their rules," said Smith, whose job is merely to enforce the whim of the board. In March, the board voted 18-4 to not allow Maras to compete on the boys' team. But Jones, abiding by Borah's charter, chose to allow Maras to play with the junior varsity. Smith planned to suspend Jones for one game each time Maras played with the JV, but then the JV team folded due to a lack of interest and Jones played Mara in a varsity game.