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AJ Francis, a seventh-grader at Talmadge Middle School, bumps a volleyball back to his father, Andrew, in the family's front yard in Monmouth during a game of "pepper."
September 20, 2011
MONMOUTH -- A league representing middle school sports in the Willamette Valley has reiterated its stance against a Monmouth boy being able to play on Talmadge Middle School's girls volleyball team.
AJ Francis and his father, Andrew, were invited to speak before members of the Tri-County League in Salem on Sept. 13. The group, comprised of athletic directors from 22 different schools, had denied an August request by the Francis family to let AJ play alongside his female peers.
There is no boys middle school volleyball program at league schools.
"Personally, I thought it was great for AJ to speak with us," said Dave Goetz, athletic director at Sweet Home Junior High and Tri-County president. "It takes a lot for a kid to do that ... he obviously has passion for wanting to play."
The ordeal concerns the guidelines the league uses for operating procedures, which come from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
"They didn't have a rule about boys playing on a girls team," Goetz said. Its representatives "encouraged us to follow Oregon School Activities Association rules."
And those provisions dictate that a girls team that includes a boy player must play a schedule against boys teams.
Other talking points among Goetz and other ADs included whether allowing AJ to play would mean more boys would seek to play girls sports. Goetz said that he asked whether the league should begin researching developing a boys volleyball program.
That idea died because of concern over Title IX stipulations, which require an equal percentage of athletic opportunities in schools for boys and girls.
Starting a boys volleyball program would require the league to eliminate another boys program, or start a new girls sport, Goetz said.
"I'm personally saddened for AJ, that we don't have an opportunity for him," he said.
Kerry Francis, AJ's mother, said her family was disappointed in the outcome, but not surprised.
"I think they could have done something to make a difference, but they chose to back off," Francis said.
AJ's family is looking into club teams in the valley he can play on. And AJ's participation with the Talmadge team isn't finished -- he's being allowed to attend and participate in practices this fall.
"I am pretty happy about it because I like being there with the team and I can help out a bit," AJ Francis said.
Dale Cutsforth, Talmadge athletic director, said there's been preliminary discussion by the Monmouth-Independence YMCA about creating a recreational volleyball program for junior-high age boys and girls.
"It has spurred some talks," Cutsforth said. The ordeal "has been a good learning experience."