Christine Peterson/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via AP
She was allowed to golf with the boys, but the rules didn’t allow her to beat them.
So when Emily Nash, a Lunenburg High School junior, shot the best score at the Central region Division 3 high school golf tournament at Blissful Meadows in Uxbridge on Tuesday, officials had to hand the trophy to the best-scoring boy, who had finished four strokes back.
The statewide rule that denied her a victory will be reviewed and possibly changed, high school sports officials said. On its face, it certainly seems like an injustice to deny a trophy to the golfer with the best score, and Nash’s story has quickly gained national attention, amplified by social media and highlighted on the Web page of the PGA.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports, said Thursday it adhered to its current rules.
Girls from schools that do not field female golf teams, which play in the spring, may compete as team members during the boys’ golf season, which is held in the fall. However, scores recorded by girls in the boys’ divisional tournaments do not count toward the individual tournament championships; girls have their individual tournaments at the end of the spring season.
Nash, in fact, placed fourth in the 2017 girls’ state championships in June at Heritage Country Club in Charlton, according to MIAA results. She competed as an individual since Lunenburg High School does not have a girls’ golf team.
“We congratulate Lunenburg’s female golfer on her performance,” the MIAA said in a lengthy statement, which did not mention Nash by name, “and wish her continued success as she participates once again in the MIAA Girls Individual Golf Tournament in the spring of 2018.”
Richard L. Pearson, MIAA’s associate director, said he could not recall another time when a female golfer had the best score in a boys’ tournament, but he could not be sure it had never happened. The MIAA’s golf committee meets several times a year to discuss the sport, and the circumstances of Nash’s denied victory “will be on their plate for consideration and discussion,” he said.
Peter Jones, director of athletics for the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough and a member of the MIAA golf committee, confirmed the rule is “100 percent something we’ll talk about.”
“If the consensus is ‘We have this wrong’ then we’ll fix it,” he said.
A student at the Marlborough school, junior Nico Ciolino, finished second to Nash at Uxbridge, yet was named the winner. Ciolino’s father, Joe, who is also the school’s golf coach, said his son realized Nash was the true champion.
“When you come in second and you’re told you’re the winner, it is an awkward situation,” Ciolino said.
He said his son offered the tournament trophy to Nash, who politely declined.
“Golf is a game of integrity,” Ciolino said. “As a coach, we try to teach these kids to win with class and lose with dignity.”
It is common for girls to play on boys’ high school golf teams. About 26 female golfers participated in 2017 fall boys’ golf tournaments, the MIAA said.
“A girl may play on a boys’ team if that sport is not offered in the school for the girl, and a boy may play on a girls’ team if that sport is not offered in the school for the boy,” MIAA rules state. “When a sport is offered in two different seasons, each individual must participate on the team of his/her gender.”
The rule that permits Nash to play on the boys’ golf team also allows boys to play on girls’ field hockey squads. At Somerset Berkley Regional High School, for example, field hockey player Lucas Crook, the coach’s son, was a prolific scorer this season, according to media reports.
The MIAA rule on girls playing in boys’ golf tournaments goes out of its way to be clear, using capital letters for emphasis.
“Girls playing on a fall boys team CANNOT BE ENTERED IN THE BOYS FALL INDIVIDUAL TOURNAMENT. THEY CAN ONLY PLAY IN THE BOYS TEAM TOURNAMENT. If qualified, they can play in the spring Girls Sectional and State Championships.”
Dick Bliss, who has coached golf at Hopkinton High School for 38 years, said the school has never had enough female golfers to field a full team for the spring season (he’d need 8-10 golfers), so his fall teams have included boys and girls.
“The MIAA makes the rules,” Bliss said. “I don’t think it was the greatest rule ever.”
He said the flap over who was deemed the tournament winner should not take away from Nash’s achievement.
“She shot 75 on that course, which is incredible,” he said.
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