The first was that she’s a pretty good field-goal kicker. With some help from Prince Avenue football coaches, Garth learned in just a couple of weeks to make extra points reliably and to kick field goals of 30 yards. Coaches told her that she might be the best kicker in the school. Garth was eager to join the team.
But Garth then discovered that her school would not allow it. As do many private schools, Prince Avenue has a policy that prevents girls from joining boys’ teams or boys from joining girls’ teams. Garth’s final appeal to the school’s board of directors was denied late last week.
“We’re obviously disappointed and we disagree, but we love Prince Avenue Christian and the people there, and we respect the decision and the deliberation,” said Branham Garth, Megan’s father.
Students have supported Garth, a senior who scored a team-leading 25 goals last season on the soccer pitch. A petition with some 300 student signatures was given to the administration in support of her cause. The high school enrollment is 275. Petitions also made their way to other local schools.
“I know that is probably not the politically correct answer, but we have boys sports and girls sports, and I believe we should stick with that,” football coach Wayne Brantley at Georgia’s Landmark Christian school said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We would not allow a boy to play girls basketball. Think of what might happen if that can of worms was opened -- a 6’7, 255-pound boy dominating in girls basketball.”
Brantley also cited concerns of safety and privacy.
“One big reason for me is the possibility of severe injury for the young lady,” he said. “Also, there is no way she could dress or shower in the same locker room. If I were to really take a little time, I could probably write you a book on why it’s not a good idea. Our main goal at Landmark in football is to build strong men who are warriors. We have other programs designed to build women of character.”
According to the Georgia High School Association’s 2016-17 participation survey, there were 49 girls playing football in Georgia last season. One of them, Lauren Pearson of Thomas County Central, made her all-region team as a kicker.
There were 1,992 girls playing football nationwide, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That’s about one girl for every 532 boys among the 1.06 million who played the game last year.
Prince Avenue Christian head of school Col. Seth Hathaway provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a lengthy statement explaining his school’s position. It cited the school’s religious tenets, the covenant between the school and its Christian parents and a commitment to “uphold its community standards and the conservative temperament of the school.”
Hathaway expressed concern over precedents. He noted that a previous request by a male student to be on the cheerleading squad had been denied. He particularly stressed the need to establish guidelines that applied sensibly to a school that has students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
“While the school recognizes the changing roles of girls in organized sports, its covenantal partnership does not support the belief that mixed athletic contact sports should traverse a spectrum from high school varsity all the way down to the second grade,” Hathaway said in the statement. “This is a challenge unique to a Pre-K to 12 school that is not a factor in traditional ninth to 12th grade high schools.”
According to Hathaway, Prince Avenue Christian is not subject to Title IX provisions regarding mixed-athletic competition because the school does not accept federal funding.
Many other private schools do allow girls to play. This year, Hebron Christian, a Gwinnett County school, has a female kicker, Payton Johnson. Hebron Christian head of school Dr. Tracey Pritchard said her school allows mixed-gender participation, although it requires permission.
“We are always open to at least a ‘discussion’ and ‘evaluation’ of whether it is prudent and appropriate to allow mixed-gender participation for a particular sport at any given time,” Dr. Pritchard said in an e-mail. “We consider it on a case-by-case basis and within the guidelines of GHSA. Also, typically, participation consideration of a female on a male team is based on the needs of the team.”
Georgia High School Association rules state that girls may play boys sports if the school has no equivalent girls sport. For example, a girl could not play on the boys basketball team unless there was no girls basketball team. But the GHSA does not compel its members to allow mixed athletic participation.