Stranded by incomplete puberty well short of the muscle mass demanded by football, George Zameska turned his thoughts where any Philadelphia street athlete would: to hockey. But at the city's celebrated Central High, where George was beginning his junior year, they play only one kind of hockey. The kind with short, crooked sticks. The kind on grass. The kind in which the players wear skirts.
Why not? thought George. In his neighborhood, girls often played ball with boys. There was this one girl across the street who could whip George at anything.
He told his buddies.
"Way cool," they said in that fluid way in which teenagers translate idea into dare. "Righteous goof."
Besides, George was good at field hockey. His grandmother had been a serious player well into middle age. She had chased George and his younger brother, Josh, around the backyard with her crooked sticks since they were toddlers. It's tough dribbling a ball over uneven turf with just the flat side of the stick, and George had the hang of it. He combined sure ball handling, quickness and a back-alley-Eric-Lindros-wannabe slap shot. On the high school hockey pitch he was going to make history. And that, he reasoned, would help him get into college.
"You can't play," coach Janice Evans told George that afternoon in September 1994.
This after George had sat through the sign-up session with a classroom of girls looking at him funny. George is not pushy. Now 17, he's lean and loose, like a kid who's going to be tall one of these days. His hair is cut short all around, and he blushes easily, but he has a direct and steady gaze that suggests something stubborn behind it. Coach Evans cited some bylaw or other. It sounded firm.
George was disappointed but also a little relieved. He figured the coach knew what she was talking about.
"Yo, wait just a minute," said George's pal Dan Zongolowicz, fishing a copy of the school handbook from his book bag the next day. "It says right here...."
Sure enough, the School District of the City of Philadelphia had courageously pledged to fight the true fight against any form of discrimination. Central's vice principal, Reginald Speir, agreed. He was better acquainted with district policy than the coach. But there are other ways to deter teenagers.