Kymora Johnson practices basketball at Jackson-Via Elementary School near her home. Johnson's youth basketball team was disqualified from a tournament over the weekend because she was a girl on a boys’ team. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress)

No, this absurd bit of sexism did not happen in 1963. This happened last weekend.

Ten young basketball players returned home to Charlottesville, Va., feeling pretty low after their five-game winning streak at a national tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was cut short when they were disqualified.

Because one of their players, Kymora Johnson, is a girl.

The Charlottesville Cavaliers were on fire at the National Travel Basketball Association’s annual tournament last weekend. Then, as they headed to the finals, tournament officials suddenly invoked a new rule. In the age of Mo’ne Davis, Katie Ledecky, Serena Williams and Carli Lloyd, the officials said Kymora was not eligible to play.

The Charlottesville Cavaliers protesting their disqualification from a National Travel Basketball Association tournament in Myrtle Beach last weekend because they have a girl on their team, 10-year-old Kymora Johnson. (Courtesy of Jessica Thomas-Johnson/Courtesy of Jessica Thomas-Johnson)

“I was, like, shocked,” said Kymora, who’s 10. “And disappointed.”

Kymora, who plays point guard and shooting guard, loves basketball. Whenever she’s on the court, she feels “motivated and excited.”

When she was 5, she wanted to play on a team. And because there were no girls’ teams for that age, her mom, Jessica Thomas-Johnson, signed her up for the boys’ team, the Cavaliers.

Kymora has never felt excluded or picked on or singled out. The boy Cavs played ball with the girl Cav, and no one gave it a second thought. She had joined them at the national tournament for the past two years. No big deal.

But apparently, this year, the association wrote a new rule that says girls can play in league games and scrimmages. But when it comes to the big, national tourney? No girls allowed.


“I can’t believe this is 2015, and my daughter isn’t allowed to play with boys,” Thomas-Johnson said. “What message does this send to other girls? What message does it send to boys?”

The disqualification came just as the finals were coming up.

Kymora ran to the coach and the officials and told them to just disqualify her, not her team. She’d sit in the stands, she’d take the uniform off. Anything. “I wanted my team to be able to make the championships, to be able to play,” she told me.

But it was too late. Another team was also disqualified after officials realized a girl was on the team. Both of these girls had checked in at the beginning of the tournament. They had to present their birth certificates. They had to look the officials in the eyes.

“Kymora had her hair down. She had a headband on. She had hot pink nail polish on her nails,” Thomas-Johnson said. “They knew she was a girl.”

John Whitley, NTBA president, told the Daily Progress in Charlottesville that the association made its new, no-girl rule clear. And he said tournament officials didn’t make an issue with Kymora because they only saw her on the bench, even though she played and scored a few points.

“We have no problem with the girls sitting on the bench,” Whitley told the newspaper. “We don’t care who sits on the bench with the teams, that goes for anybody … to sit on the bench.”

Listen here: We’re World Cup champions, NFL coaches, world record holders. Even cheerleaders are off the sidelines. It’s not 1963, our girls aren’t practicing for their MRS degrees. Nobody puts baby on the bench.

Kymora’s teammates — the nine boys she’s been shooting hoops with for years now — didn’t back down.

“They were nice and supportive. They were all, like, ‘It’s not your fault!’ ” she said.

“The kids,” Thomas-Johnson said, “were behaving better than the adults in this case.”

When the team that got the Cavs’ berth took the court, Kymora’s entire team wore pink shirts in support of her and stood on the sidelines.

It would’ve been easy to go back to Charlottesville and forget about all of it. But not only does Kymora want to play with her Cavs next year, she wants to send the message to girls everywhere that they shouldn’t back down.

“You have to fight for your freedom,” she told me. “You have to fight for the right to do it.”

Well, truthfully, you shouldn’t have to fight for this, Kymora. The adults in charge should know better than that.