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MIAA examines rules on golf after gender controversy

AP file

Emily Nash of Lunenburg High School.

By Dan McLoone Globe Correspondent 

FRANKLIN — Facing severe backlash, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is taking steps to change a rule that prevented Lunenburg junior Emily Nash from being given the medalist trophy after she logged the lowest score at the Division 3 Central Mass. boys’ sectional tournament in October.

Nash’s score of 75 was four strokes better than runner-up Nico Ciolino of the Advanced Math & Science Academy, who offered the winner’s trophy to Nash, but she declined.

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In a special public meeting Thursday of the MIAA Golf Committee, ideas were considered to update the rule, which states: “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.”

The committee invited input from three experts in gender equality issues: Pat Griffin, a professor at UMass and advocate for sports inclusion; Erin Buzuvis, a law professor at Western New England University and Title IX specialist; and Jeff Perrotti, a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The committee ultimately recommended a change that would allow girls who play on a boys’ team in the fall because their school does not have a girls’ team to declare before the individual tournament whether they wish to be entered into the individual tournament in the fall or save their eligibility until the spring when the girls’ individual tournament is.

Currently, all female golfers in the fall can qualify for only the team state finals.

From here, a new Blue Ribbon Task Force will take the recommendations into account while working to identify other areas of the MIAA handbook that might need changing.

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Any changes in language will then be up to a vote from the Golf Committee, and then the Board of Directors before being officially adopted.

Smith Academy athletic director David Keir introduced the formation of the task force, which will comprise about 15 people (including himself, Buzuvis, and Perrotti) and review the MIAA handbook to ensure it supports gender equality for all co-ed sports.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this in the past, on what our format is and what our rules are,” said Keir. “The blue ribbon task force group, that’s their task, to ensure that we’re doing everything we can in that department.”

In addition, the MIAA will likely consider the low scorer of every tournament the medalist.

“On its surface, it looks like a situation where a girl won and was denied a trophy because of her sex, and that sounds terrible,” said Buzuvis. “It definitely helped me relate to where the committee was coming from when I understood that the rule was put in place to actually sort of try to promote and provide opportunities for girls’ golfers.

“Could that be done even better? Yes it can. But it was coming from a standpoint of ‘let’s enable’ not ‘let’s restrict’ competitive opportunities.”

Currently, boys’ golf is played in the fall while girls’ golf is played in the spring; combining them into one season would create issues with scheduling, as schools are at the mercy of local courses. This same issue would arise if golf were made a non-gendered sport, as it would require all golfers play in the same season.

Despite the long process, Buzuvis sees progress.

“They seemed really open-minded to considering a lot of different possibilities,” said Buzuvis. “It sounded like they were really willing to consider doing something to move the ball on gender equity, and I’m really excited about that.”


Dan McLoone can be reached at dan.mcloone@globe.com.