A Section 1 eligibility committee ruled Thursday that two boys who had played in Rye High School’s field hockey program last year may not play this year.
The ruling was apparently received by the district in the late afternoon and conveyed to the team after its practice.
The decision means that, as of now, Sean Walsh, a senior who played on Rye’s varsity last year, and Phile Govaert, a freshman, who played on the junior varsity, will not be allowed to play in games, nor will they be allowed to practice with the team. Both had made the varsity squad.
But a challenge by at least one of the boys is expected.
While Walsh and his parents could not be reached for comment Thursday night, Govaert’s father (also Phile), promised to appeal and would not rule out taking the matter to court if the section does not reverse itself or if the New York State Public High School Athletic Administration does not overturn the ruling.
While the elder Govaert said he had not yet seen the written ruling, he said acting Rye athletic director Rod Mergardt had said the section had determined the boys had done too well on a physical fitness test. Govaert took issue with that finding, saying his 5-foot-6, 114-pound son had trained for three weeks last spring just to reach minimum fitness standards the district said were necessary even for him to be eligible to apply.
He said his son faces girls on opposing teams who outweigh him by 50 to 100 percent and remarked, “If they bumped him, he’d probably be blown out of the field.”
Mergardt, who had previously said the district would abide by the section’s decision, declined to speak about the ruling’s contents, saying he was “working with the parents” on the matter.”
Texting from a function she was attending Thursday night, Jennifer Simmons, Section 1’s executive director, attributed the ruling to a “variety of reasons. “
While not saying whether other schools had opposed the boys playing, she said, “The committee is responsible for the whole section.”
“There are guidelines that the committee needs to follow to determine if there is an adverse effect on other girls on Rye and in the section,” she said. “They must decide if an unfair advantage is gained, if girls are being displaced from team, from having opportunity to practice, play or compete. It’s not a cut and dry decision. Much thought and discussion occurs.”
It’s unclear whether the section determined that either or both boys were too skilled to play against girls, which is one criteria that may be used for denial.
Walsh, though, has just one year of field hockey experience and was not considered to be a star player.
Govaert, like his sister, Fusine, a junior, who led all of Section 1 in scoring last year, spent his early years in his native Netherlands, where both learned the game from a young age.
Govaert, who said he took the same physical fitness test to play on the JV and had similarly had to train to meet what he had been told were minimum standards at that time, said his experience in the game had shown on the JV level but it wasn’t as obvious on varsity.
“Last year on JV, you could see I was better than the average JV player but this year it’s mostly even, I think,” he said.
His father, who has played field hockey since childhood, questioned whether skill should even be considered and said if it is, “then take my oldest daughter, Fusine, out.”
“Do we only take people who are equally bad or good to play? What is this nonsense?” he asked, saying players should be applauded for having good skills, not punished.
He said the family had received “contradictory” information about the physical fitness test and criticized the section for a lack of “transparency.”
“You’re changing the game and rules,” he charged.
Govaert further questioned why the section had taken so long to make a ruling when the boys took their fitness tests last spring.
He characterized what has occurred as “dodgy” and said people looking at the boys play would conclude by “common sense” that they were not at an advantage.
He said he has a meeting scheduled with Mergardt next week and would advocate that the school challenge the ruling.
Govaert further said he would continue to try to reach Simmons, promising to call her daily.
Simmons said only the school, and not parents, may appeal the section’s ruling to the section.
Rye coach Emily Townsend Prince, who had staunchly supported the boys playing, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
But the younger Phil Govaert, who noted Walsh had missed Thursday’s practice, seemed equally upset with the ban on him and Walsh practicing as with them playing with their Rye team.
“I just want to play, have fun and enjoy it but they told me I can’t even practice with the team,” he said. “I’m going to miss all the fun we were going to have. I’m really sad it all ended out of nowhere and so fast.”