— Purpose 2 Play (@Purpose2Play) February 3, 2017
The courtroom battle began in December with a fight over a court of different sorts — and a 12-year-old girl’s access to it.
Sydney Phillips, from Kenilworth, N.J., had plans to spend her winter playing on the seventh-grade girls basketball team at St. Theresa’s Catholic school. She had competed the year before, reported NJ.com, and was even named an all-star.
But in the fall, when not enough of her female classmates showed interest, St. Theresa’s canceled their season.
So Sydney asked whether instead she could play with the boys.
School officials said no.
Their message, according to Sydney’s father, was simple: Girls play with girls, boys play with boys.
That reasoning didn’t satisfy Scott Phillips and his wife, who decided to file a lawsuit against the Catholic school and the Archdiocese of Newark on their daughter’s behalf. Sydney, they argued, shouldn’t be held back just because she is a girl.
The parents argued that the school was in violation of the rules of the Interstate Athletic Association, the New York Post reported, which say girls should be permitted to try out for boys’ teams in the absence of a girls’ team. The association, however, told the New York Post that only applies to high schools.
Superior Court Judge Donald Kessler ruled that the 12-year-old had no legal right to play basketball.
In mid-January, as the basketball season ticked away, Sydney’s parents appealed.
Then last week, the couple learned that Sydney’s right to play basketball wasn’t the only fight they would have on their hands.
On Wednesday, an email and letter explained that Sydney and her younger sister, a fifth-grade student, were no longer welcome at St. Theresa’s, NJ.com reported. The Archdiocese of Newark had decided to expel the girls, citing a school handbook policy that states parents who sue the school will be asked to remove their children.
The correspondence, Phillips told NJ.com, said that neither of his daughters “should be coming to St. Theresa’s School tomorrow morning or any day thereafter.”
Phillips told NJ.com he was “just plain disgusted.”
“They did nothing wrong,” Phillips told NJ.com of his daughters. “And, this is the church? This is the archdiocese? They should be ashamed of themselves.”
The next day, Phillips showed up at St. Theresa’s with his daughters anyway, where they were met by the church pastor, the associate pastor, the school principal and three Kenilworth police officers, Phillips’s lawyer, Susan McCrea, told NJ.com. They were threatened with criminal trespassing charges, McCrea said.
That day, McCrea filed for a court order to get the girls back in school, which Kessler denied.
On Friday came an emergency appeal. Appellate court Judge Amy O’Connor issued a temporary order requiring the school to reinstate the girls pending a hearing set for later this week.
NBC 4 in New York reported that Phillips said he planned to take his daughters to school Monday morning.
For their part, the school and archdiocese declined to comment on the case specifically, according to local media, but did send letters to other parents at the school explaining the situation. They claimed in the initial lawsuit that Sydney didn’t turn in her application form for the basketball team by the deadline — something her parents denied — and that their offer to let the seventh-grader play on a girls team at a nearby school was declined.
In the middle of it all is Sydney, who last week said she didn’t understand.
“I just asked to play basketball and now I’m being expelled,” she told NBC 4. “It makes no sense at all.”
The girl has been playing the sport since she was in preschool, reported NJ.com, and has aspirations to compete in high school and, if she can get good enough, maybe even college. She plays on an intramural team and has participated in co-ed camps hosted by her school.
When the New York Liberty WNBA team heard of Sydney’s plight, the women invited the girl, her little sister and another friend to practice with them at their Madison Square Garden training center. Sydney was there when her father found out his daughters had been expelled.
“It has to start being more equal,” Scott Phillips told NBC 4. “We have to come with the times.”
Olympic medalist Teresa Weatherspoon told the TV station that they wanted to support the young girl and show her that she should have the same opportunities as the boys. Sydney also got to FaceTime with retired Liberty player Swin Cash, who works in the team’s front office as director of franchise development, reported USA Today blog For the Win.
“I’m really happy to just see that our organization is one that’s committed to shining a spotlight on situations like this and making her and her family feel the love and support of the Liberty,” Cash told For the Win.
Across its social media channels, the New York Liberty proclaimed its support for Sydney and said they “believe a girl’s place is on the court.”
Sydney’s father said his daughter wouldn’t be taking a boy’s spot on the team because it has a no-cut policy, and that her talents should be embraced as a welcome addition.
“I’m bummed I couldn’t play,” she told NBC 4. “I’m better than them.”
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