For two years, Anna Scanlon has played soccer for the Wildcats, a coed children's team in Fairfax County.
She'd like to play for the Wildcats again this spring, but her soccer club says no. At the age of 6 1/2, Anna is too old to play with the boys, the club says, and must now join an all-girls team.
Anna's father, Bill, an economist at Georgetown University medical school, is fuming, calling the incident sex discrimination. "This teaches girls to accept it, and boys to think it's right, and neither is an acceptable lesson to be giving children," he says.
Bill Scanlon's sentiments are shared by Jim De Deo, whose daughter Elinor, 6, also must leave the Wildcats for an all-girls team. "They gave us no reason at all -- just that it's best for all the children if the girls don't play with the boys, and that's not an attitude we can accept in this day and age," De Deo says.
The Wildcats are sponsored by the Fairfax Police Youth Club Inc., a private, nonprofit volunteer club for 1,800 children that no longer has official police ties. The club belongs to the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, a group of Virginia and District clubs that have 32,000 players of the fast-growing sport.
For the last several years, the girls have paid a $20 seasonal registration fee to play in the club's "minikick" league, which is for 5- and 6-year-old girls and boys.
Now, according to club rules, they're too old for minikick, and if they want to play with the same club, they have to sign up for an all-girls team.
Although the Fairfax Police Youth Club is governed by 23 board members, the decision to keep soccer teams single-sex was made by Dave Conner, its soccer director.
Conner says his program does not violate any laws because the girls are not being told they can't play soccer.
Fairfax has a human rights ordinance that covers possible sex discrimination in sports, but it does not apply to contact sports such as wrestling or soccer, says Fred L. Allen, executive director of the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission.
The federal Title IX regulations do not apply, either, because the program receives no federal funds, says a spokesman for Department of Education.
And the Virginia Youth Soccer Association rules say nothing about separating sexes, according to George Towner Jr., the president.
Conner says that separation of the sexes eventually becomes necessary because boys, as they grow, become rougher and stronger. "It's debatable at what age those kids should or should not be playing together," he says. "Soccer is a contact sport. For my own daughter's sake, I'd prefer that she not come home with the broken arms, the scars and the chipped teeth that we often have in the boys' leagues."
Until Scanlon and De Deo came long, Conner says he had received only one other such complaint about girls being excluded from the team. The two fathers say they have contacted a lawyer about the situation.
Although Conner plans to study the ramifications of expanding coed soccer, he says this will take time and that his decision will not be reversed in time for the soccer season, which is scheduled to begin March 30.
Conner also says "the real reason" Scanlon and De Deo are pushing the issue is that the Wildcats last season dominated every team in their league, and the parents want their daughters to keep winning. "My gut feeling is that they're doing it more for their ego than for the real interest of the kids," he says.
Scanlon and De Deo disagree, saying they just want their daughters to enjoy top-notch soccer with teammates they know and like.
A survey of metro-area soccer clubs and associations shows that while single-sex teams prevail, there are exceptions.
In Montgomery County, where 8,000 children age 6 to 18 play soccer in Montgomery Soccer Inc., a girl Anna Scanlon's age can choose between an all-girls team or a mostly boys team.
"Eventually, the boys will become bigger and stronger," says Judith Paul, the registrar, "but I don't think at the first-grade level it makes a darned bit of difference."
The Arlington Soccer Association has 4,000 children age 6 through 19 playing on what are officially listed as single-sex teams. But lots of teen-age girls have played coed there. "We don't really care," says John McLaughlin, the association's director. "If they're good enough and they feel comfortable enough playing on a boys team, we'd just as soon they play on them."
Wallace Watson, president of the Metropolitan D.C.-Virginia Soccer Association, used to be basketball commissioner for the Annandale Boys Club in Fairfax County. "When the parents wanted their girls to play on a boys team -- hey, I let them. Sooner or later, they'll change and they'll want to go play with the girls. If I was advising the Fairfax police group, I'd say, 'Let them play.' "
Had the girls belonged to a team in the Annandale Boys' Club, one of the largest soccer leagues in Northern Virginia, they would have been permitted to play on teams with boys until the third grade, says Kip Germain, the league's coaching director.
"But if we did not have enough players in one area, or on a team, we'd mix them boys and girls without even thinking twice about it," Germain says.
Bill Scanlon says he explained the situation to his daughter. He says she's not the kind to show emotion. "But, "I think . . . she probably feels hurt by this," he says.
Jim De Deo says that he so far he hasn't wanted to involve his daughter in the dispute. "As far as she knows, she's still going to play soccer with the boys," he says.