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Column: Bishop Brady’s Herrington should remain with boys’ hockey team

Bishop Brady's Shelby Herrington (8) plays against Trinity during a high school varsity hockey game at Everett Arena in Concord on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

(Greg Lindstrom/Monitor Staff)

Bishop Brady's Shelby Herrington (8) plays against Trinity during a high school varsity hockey game at Everett Arena in Concord on Wednesday, January 25, 2012. (Greg Lindstrom/Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Like she has for the past two seasons, Shelby Herrington can tug on a Bishop Brady hockey jersey and skate with her male teammates in the boys’ hockey team’s season opener tomorrow.

Whether she can do it for the rest of the season, however, remains to be seen.

Herrington, you see, is caught between two teams – the Brady boys’ team that she’s played with her entire high school career, and the newly formed cooperative Bishop Brady-Trinity girls’ team.

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports in the state, ruled that Herrington must play with the girls, denying Brady’s waiver request and a subsequent appeal. Because of that, Herrington’s parents filed suit in Merrimack County Superior Court on their daughter’s behalf, petitioning for declaratory and injunctive relief to allow her to play with the boys.

Judge Richard McNamara is expected to rule on the case on or before Dec. 19. Until then, the sides agreed at Friday’s preliminary hearing to allow her to play in the Brady boys’ first three games – tomorrow at Trinity, Saturday at home against Pinkerton, and Monday at St. Thomas.

The hope here is that she’ll be skating with them the rest of the season. After all, the precedent was set five years ago when the NHIAA allowed St. Thomas’s Danielle DiCesare to remain on the boys’ team for her senior season after St. Thomas formed a cooperative girls’ team with Dover.

At issue is Article 1, Section 4 of the NHIAA’s bylaws, which states in part: “Interscholastic athletics involving mixed (boys/girls) competition is prohibited except in those instances where the member school does not offer equivalent (same) activities for girls. In these situations, girls shall be eligible to try out in any activity and, upon becoming a member of the team, will be eligible for NHIAA sponsored competition.”

Until this year, Brady did not offer girls’ hockey, and Herrington, like her sister Lauren before her, not only played but held her own on the boys’ team. The formation of the Brady girls’ team does offer an equivalent activity, but it does not offer equivalent opportunities.

Just ask Jeff Kampersal, head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team and head coach at Princeton, where he coached DiCesare for four years after recruiting her out of St. Thomas. In a letter to the NHIAA Appeals Board (submitted with court records), Kampersal wrote of Herrington: “We see clear evidence that her development on the ice has accelerated in the last two years, which I attribute to several factors, including her continued participation in the faster boys’ game at the High School level. She is a legitimate Division 1 prospect, and I believe that insisting that she play girls’ High School hockey in New Hampshire for the next two seasons could slow down or impair her continued development.”

Granted, the NHIAA’s job isn’t to ensure college scholarships or recruitment, but it seemed logical that the NHIAA would follow the precedent it set with DiCesare and allow Herrington to finish her high school career with the teammates and at the competitive level at which she started.

But that wasn’t the case.

According to court documents, in an Oct. 12, 2011, email from NHIAA Executive Director R. Patrick Corbin to representatives of Bishop Brady and Trinity, Corbin wrote: “When girl’s ice hockey was initially started, a senior girl was given a one-time exemption from this rule because the program was new and she was a senior. The action of the committee and Council at the time made it very clear that this would not be waived in the future under any circumstances. Just wanted everyone to be aware in the event this is a deal breaker for the coop.”

Perhaps Brady and Trinity should have shelved the cooperative team for two years, until Herrington graduated, to avoid this situation. But why should they deny 20 or so other girls the opportunity to play?

The solution should have been simple. If a girl had played on her high school boys’ team before, then grandfather (or grandmother) her in. If she hadn’t, then she plays with the girls.

But that’s not in the NHIAA’s bylaws. Its rule, and its intent, is a sound one, but sometimes rules get in the way of common sense.

To all involved: Do the right thing, let her play.

(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)

There is a girls team; she is a girl. That is where she belongs. Girls fought for this for about a decade. She and her family should show some class. This issue is bigger than one girl. Go win a championship for and with your female classmates and colleagues at Trinity.

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