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MIAA VOLLEYBALL | GYMNASTICS COMMITTEES

Potential rule change allowing boys to play the front line in a girls’ game headed to MIAA Board for a vote

The agenda for the MIAA’s Volleyball Committee touched upon the present (the boys’ season this spring) and the future (the Fall 2021 girls’ season), along with the association’s new power ratings system that will be introduced with the inaugural statewide tournament this fall.

In Tuesday’s virtual meeting, however, the most contentious topic was the ongoing discussion of allowing boys to play on the front row for a girls’ team — where they can attack and block at the net.

In the MIAA Handbook, Rules 83.5.1 and 83.5.2 state that a boy playing on a girls’ team (only if the school does not field a boys’ program) can not play the ball in front of the 10-foot line, nor participate in an attempted block. The current rule has been in place since 2007 to reduce injuries to girls caused by boys’ attacks — the same argument voiced by the Volleyball Committee focusing on safety to keep the status quo.

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But last May, the volleyball committee and the MIAA’s Blue Ribbon Committee discussed proposals to make the current rule compliant with federal and state laws, and to make the rule’s language gender neutral.

Kathleen McSweeney, the association’s liaison to the volleyball committee’s, read aloud a text from associate director Sherry Bryant.

“The current language that precludes boys from playing in the front row or spiking is in violation of state and federal laws,” Bryant wrote. “That being said, in my mind, there is no final decision being made to allow boys to play in the front row or spike, but rather there is currently an effort to create new policy language that is legally compliant and gender neutral.”

The rule change proposals have been forwarded to the MIAA Board of Directors, who will vote Monday.

A few coaches have spoken out against this potential rule change because they believe it gives girls’ teams with boys an unfair advantage. A girls’ net is 4.5 inches lower than a boys’ net, per National Federation of State High School Associations rules, to account for physiological differences between girls and boys.

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Jane Bergin, who coaches the Andover girls in the fall and the Lexington boys in the spring, argued that allowing this rule change would essentially create co-ed volleyball teams. And that would disincentivize schools from forming boys’ teams, and take away opportunities for girls.

“Why does the National Federation … come up with game rules then?” Bergin said. “Why do we have girls rules and why do we have boys rules? Why do we have set net heights? Because if we’re trying to determine neutrality in gender and stuff like that, there shouldn’t be any rules.

After the meeting, Bergin told the Globe the rule change could be a potential Title IX violation.

“I’m all for getting the guys to learn the sport because I think it’s great … the Federation made rules for boys, they made rules for girls,” said Bergin. “It should be that way. We all lived through that and we were suppressed athletically. We all need to do a better job to build stuff up for females.”

For the boys’ season this spring, there will be no changes to the COVID-19 modifications put in place for the girls’ Fall II season. The seeding meeting for the boys’ postseason will take place either June 16 or 17.

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Gymnastics

In a virtual call, MIAA gymnastics committee finalized dates for their 2021-22 season. The state championships for boys’ gymnastics will be held Feb. 11. The tournament for Eastern and Central Massachusetts girls will begin with sectionals on Feb. 26 and conclude with state championships on March 5. All locations are to be announced. The gymnastics committee also discussed possible realignment, due to the South section currently having 10 more teams than the North. Several teams in the Midland Wachusett would be targeted in the realignment.

Kat Cornetta also contributed to this story.