The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three girls’ soccer players cut their hair short. Now they’re accused of being boys.

Despite their age, the three young girls have heard it all. They’ve been called boys when they show up at the soccer field. They’ve been heckled and ridiculed, with even referees questioning what they’re doing on a girls’ soccer team.

It’s because of their hair.

The three girls, who play on a Madison, Wis., under-11 club team called the 56ers, prefer to wear their hair cropped close, in a manner that used to be described as “boyishly short.” They do it for reasons that have evolved as they’ve grown: a hero,  whether it’s Ellen DeGeneres or Abby Wambach, wears it that way; it’s convenient for schedules filled with soccer games.

And, lately, it’s because of a young Nebraska girl whose short hair put her at the forefront of a debate over gender and sports. The team for which Milagros “Mili” Hernandez plays was disqualified from a girls’ tournament because officials did not believe she was a girl, despite proof supplied by her father. Her teammates cut their hair in solidarity and she even drew the attention of Mia Hamm and Wambach, who tweeted, “Mili, don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you aren’t perfect just as you are. I won championships with short hair.”

Mira Wilde cut her hair two years ago, when she was 8, to look like DeGeneres. Not long after, Stella Blau, now 11, cut hers to look like Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, another member of the U.S. women’s national team. Adah Lacocque, now 10, cut hers when she was 4 to minimize tangles and the possibility that it would get into her yogurt.

Now, they’re preparing for a new season that begins next month, and all that comes with it. Tom Blau, Stella’s father, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the parent of a player on an opposing team once approached the girls and asked them their names. “People have said they’re afraid their daughter is going to get hurt playing against boys,” Stella’s father, Tom, told reporter Maddie Koss. “[Our girls] are just physical and are playing the sport the way it’s supposed to be played. When we tell a parent on the other team that they’re girls they just say, ‘Yeah right.’”

If anyone misses the message, they have T-shirts that say, “Sixer Strong” on the back and “Try and Keep Up” on the front (with a nod to Title IX, too). They also reached out to Hernandez, sending her letters that said, “Be you.”

A girl says her short hair got her soccer team disqualified — so her teammates grabbed scissors

Hernandez’s disqualification was, officials said, linked to a typo about her gender on the roster and to a rules violation over player swapping.

Whatever the reason, it “made her cry,” her father said. The Nebraska Soccer Association apologized in a statement on Facebook.

“We believe that this needs to be a learning moment for everyone involved with soccer in our state,” it said, “and are working directly with our clubs and tournament officials to ensure that this does not happen again.”

And if it does happen? Molly Duffy, the team’s coach, and the kids’ parents decided it would be best to confront the situation head-on, by presenting the girls’ playing cards to parents, coaches and referees before every game.

“For the lack of better words, my girls are bad ass,” Duffy said. “They’re faced with this kind of situation and they take on the attitude of: ‘You know what, we got this.’ They are confident in what they do.”

Read more:

Barcelona reportedly is dragging its feet on Neymar’s transfer papers

Neymar said the challenge, and not the money, spurred his move to PSG

Soccer Insider: D.C. United trading Bobby Boswell to Atlanta

United trades Lamar Neagle to Seattle, is out of the running for Gary Medel