MAMARONECK As a boy playing on his school’s girls volleyball team, Andreo Otiniano did everything legally required and braced himself emotionally for the obstacles he knew he would face.
A team manager his freshman year, Otiniano said he “wanted to be more involved” the following year, so he tried out for a spot on the team. He took the required physical tests and attended all of the practices.
He even wore the spandex.
Otiniano said that during the state-required strength test, he was called on to run a mile and a half in under 15 minutes, and do a number of pull-ups, push-ups and arm hangs.
“(The instructor) didn’t really tell me how long I had to do it for, he kind of just said, ‘Alright, do it,’ and he would send the results to I think somewhere like Albany to see if I was able to play or not,” Otiniano recalled during Wednesday’s practice.
That was two years ago.
Otiniano is no longer allowed to play for the Tigers, but he still participates in practice and is on the roster. He just never sees the court.
Section 135.4 of the New York State Education Department Commissioner Regulations states that if a school doesn’t offer separate competition for male and female students in a specific sport, “no student shall be excluded from such competition solely by reason of sex,” except in sports like volleyball, which requires a fitness test.
With volleyball, it falls to a review panel to assess the fitness of a student wishing to participate in mixed competition. That panel then submits a request to the section.
A superintendent of schools can also outright decline a player’s request if they feel the athlete would have “significant adverse effect upon the opportunity of females to participate successfully in inter-school competition in that sport.”
Mamaroneck athletic director Bari Suman said she and Tigers head coach Stacey Riter came to the agreement that Otiniaro could not play his junior year.
“It just didn’t feel like he still fit that criteria,” Suman said. “I felt like he could adversely effect a female participant on a female team.”
“I think it was hard for him at first,” Riter said, “but there was never any question about whether he was going to continue to practice with us or be part of the team.”
‘He walked on like he was meant to be there’
Although boys have sparingly played on girls’ volleyball programs in recent years (Yonkers’ Jenson Daniel, 2011; Horace Greeley’s Andrew LaFortezza and Jason Elbaum, 2013), no boy has played on a varsity girls volleyball program the past two seasons.
“He walked on like he was meant to be there,” junior captain Maddie Sach said.
The issue of boys playing on female teams has been a hot-button issue lately.
Those in defense of boys playing on girls’ teams often cite Title IX, arguing that boys should not be discriminated against because of their gender. Those opposed often cite the male physique and strength relative to that of a female’s.
“I think if he was a threat to our safety he shouldn’t be allowed to play, but I don’t view it as that as all,” Sach said of Otiniano, who is 5-foot-11 and just under 160 pounds.
As Otiniano pointed out, nobody on the court is out for literal blood.
“I don’t think anybody’s intention is to actually hurt anybody,” Otiniano said. “Even when I was hitting front row, like yeah, I want to get a kill, but I was never wanting to hurt anybody.
“I can’t hurt anybody with a volleyball. It’s meant to be hit.”
The double standard
The regulation net for a boys volleyball match is approximately eight inches higher than that of a girls’ net, so many agree that some sort of compromise has to be made. Boys might play in the back row, for example, or as a defensive specialist, with no real hitting ability.
Tigers senior captain Katie Torok said that if a school doesn’t offer a boy a gender-specific sport for him to play, he should play wherever he wants on the girls’ side.
“We had a girl who played hockey. She could play anywhere (on the rink), so I don’t think boys shouldn’t be able to play in certain spots,” she said, referring to 2013 alumna Kiera Taussig. “If girls can play on a boys’ (team), a boy should be able to play on a girls’ (team).
Mamaroneck has had three girls play on the hockey team in the past two decades — Taussig, 2007 alumna Kathleen Thompson and 1996 alumna Wendy Korotkin.
Torok said there’s an obvious double standard in the way boys in female sports are viewed and treated.
“We live in a world that’s constantly saying, ‘Do what you want,’ ” she said. “There’s so much encouragement around us — especially at this school — to do whatever you want, but then I think it’s kind of hypocritical to be like, ‘But you can’t play because you’re a boy.’ That’s not right.”
Riter admitted that after seeing Otiniano’s improvement throughout his sophomore year, it put her in a difficult position.
“I had mixed feelings about it because I agreed that it was no longer appropriate for him to play,” she said. “But I also saw this kid who was putting in so much time and effort on the court that it was going to be hard that he couldn’t be rewarded with playing time.”
Above all, a family
The past three years have not come without their share of bumps and bruises, or, rather, sticks and stones.
A group of football players allegedly taunted Otiniano verbally during a playoff match against Scarsdale in 2013. Otiniano, Riter and several members of the Tigers heard the team singling out Otiniano for wearing spandex and being a boy on a girls team. Suman said she spoke with Scarsdale athletic director at the time Joe DeCrescenzo about the incident.
DeCrescenzo could not confirm what happened at the match, but said he spoke with the boys afterwards upon hearing about their “unacceptable” behavior. “We don’t represent Scarsdale that way,” he told The Journal News last week.
Scarsdale principal Kenneth Bonamo was also informed of the alleged incident, but could not confirm any details. Bonamo was adamant about ensuring there is a “positive atmosphere” at every sporting event at each school, but admitted there is only so much a school can do.
“We can’t monitor every exchange,” he said. “Kids should be appropriate and not abusive to anyone — an opponent, fans, spectators — in any way.”
Riter still had her player’s back.
“She stood up for me and I didn’t even ask her to,” Otiniano said.
Even if he’s not on the floor, in the eyes of Mamaroneck, Otiniano is still very much a member of the team.
“Andreo is a part of our team as much as any other person, but it sucks. He doesn’t get to play,” Sach said. “You don’t get that same rush and that adrenaline and that feeling of belonging because no matter how much we say, ‘Andreo is part of our team,’ and he is, when (he) can’t play it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.”