It's disheartening to still be discussing gender bias in 2018

Even this month, with the upcoming NCAA women's tournament, the annual billboard for progress in the women's sports revolution, we learn all over again that they still have to come a long way, baby.

Such is the case for Emory Menefee, a female middle school student at St. Gabriel, a K-8 Catholic school in Windsor, who is being denied a chance to play basketball because of her gender.

Her story begins with the dearth of girls' players interested in basketball this winter at St. Gabriel, thus prompting Menefee to try out for the boys' team. She didn't merely make the team, but started between 15 and 20 games.

St. Gabriel had advanced to the regional tournament, played under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Diocesan rules prohibit girls' from playing on boys' teams and boys from playing on girls' teams in the tournament. And so Menefee, also a premier soccer player who participates against boys regularly, suddenly can't play basketball for her team any longer.

Menefee's story has caught the attention of ESPN analyst and former UConn great Rebecca Lobo as well as Connecticut Sun star (and aspiring ESPN personality) Chiney Ogwumike, among others.

Turns out that Lobo's daughter, Maeve, became friends with Menefee at some basketball camps. Lobo learned of Menefee's success playing against the boys earlier this winter and the subsequent news of her shortened season.

"It ticks me off," Lobo was saying earlier this week, between studio appearances at ESPN previewing the NCAA Tournament. "Of course, boys can't play on girls' teams. Anyone with common sense understands the differences in size and strength. But in reverse, it feels like Emory is being denied the opportunity because of her gender."

Get back, Loretta.

Rebecca is rolling.

"What is the point in denying someone an opportunity?" she said. "I'd understand if St. Gabriel had a girls' team. But they don't. This is a kid good enough to start for the boys' team. Why deny her this opportunity, especially in a state where the sport is so celebrated?"

An excellent question.

The best explanation the family received: It's a rule.

The best explanation yours truly received: It's a rule.

"I'm not one to make waves," Emory's dad, Michael, said. "We were told girls can't play in the playoffs. It's a rule. I've tried to use this a moment to teach Emory that in life, setbacks come."

Michael Menefee, a teacher, grew up in Bloomfield with Nykesha Sales. He saw Sales play against boys all the time, because 1) she was good enough; and 2) things haven't changed so much in town. Bloomfield still doesn't offer as many opportunities for girls in youth sports, thus prompting them to play on more boys' teams.

Emory Menefee has attended camps with boys run by two of the best high school basketball coaches in Connecticut: Luke Reilly of East Catholic and Ken Smith of Windsor. Clearly, she belongs. Again: Lobo's question: What is the basis for denying her the opportunity?

"I went to Catholic school in elementary and middle school. I know what she's going through," said Ogwumike, who spoke to Emory by phone earlier this week and invited her to a Sun game. "I was fortunate to have girls' volleyball and basketball teams at my school, but not every school did. I would never have thought of playing for a boys' team at that age. I'd have stayed in my lane and played with girls in AAU.

"This kid is a trailblazer," Ogwumike said. "I remember in high school, we'd scrimmage against a lot of the sophomore boys every day. It's some of the best basketball I've ever played in my life. They pushed us in ways you can't simulate. It was the most egalitarian experience. We'd go to lunch after and tease each other. 'I blocked your shot!' And we won two state championships. We had a different motor because of it."

Common sense suggests this rule needs to be rewritten to accommodate new evidence and changing circumstances. A girl should be able to play with the boys, particularly if no girls' team exists. Denial of opportunity is exactly why Title IX was written.

Perhaps someone in the Archdiocese of Hartford can tend to this forthwith.

Because there's no reason Emory Menefee shouldn't still be playing basketball.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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