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Female soccer player gets to play with the boys Add to ...

Courtney Greer has been kicking a soccer ball since the age of three - and when she got to high school, she decided she wanted to play with the boys.

She never imagined that the tryouts would go beyond the field and take her all the way to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

But earlier this week, before a hearing got underway, Ms. Greer got her wish when the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations changed its gender equity policy and allowed her to be on the boys team's defence.

The about-face by the body that oversees school sport was sweeping. Until the change, young women were only allowed to play on boys' teams when a girls' team did not exist. Now, if young women successfully try out for a boys' team, they can participate even if there's a similar girls' team at the school.

"For me it was an opportunity to expand the skills that I have and improve as a player," Ms. Greer, 17, said Friday from her home in Waterloo, Ont. "It's just the boys game is so different, and it allows me to develop in a whole different way as a player."

Ms. Greer had the backing of her school administrators and coaches at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School. Already on a girls' soccer team outside school, she looked to widen her abilities playing with the boys. Her athletic skills earned her a spot on the high-school junior boys' team, and she was even named co-MVP. But when she tried out for the senior boys' team, she ran into problems. She filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal, arguing the OFSAA policy prohibited her from playing because of her gender.

Even though the OFSAA has changed its policy, it is still not completely on side. Doug Gellatly, the federation's executive director, said lawyers advised him that Ms. Greer would probably win her case. He said the new policy diminishes the value of girls' sports in schools.

"We were basically forced into this by the Human Rights Tribunal," he said. "We don't think it's a good thing, no, because what does it say about girls' sport?"

Ms. Greer argued that the policy shift gives girls a choice, and if some athletes move to boys' teams, it allows younger girls who would otherwise be in the shadows of stronger athletes to play a larger role.

"If you've got girls who want to play at the boys level, if they leave, it provides an opportunity for other girls to step up," she said. "It opens up the opportunity for other girls who wouldn't have taken a leadership role to step up and have that opportunity."

The issue of girls playing on boys' teams has been discussed widely. Mr. Gellatly said he has received a few inquiries. And in 2006, a Winnipeg human-rights adjudicator ruled that twin sisters were victims of gender discrimination because they had been blocked from trying out for the boys' team by the Manitoba High School Athletic Association.

Grace Vaccarelli, Ms. Greer's lawyer, doesn't imagine the policy change in Ontario will lead to hundreds of girls leaving their high-school teams. But it will give those who wish to do so more choice. "I don't see floodgates. I don't see that girls aren't going to play with girls anymore. It's not true. It's not going to happen," she said.

Ms. Greer has already played two games with the senior boys' team while her case was pending. She hopes the skills she develops will help her win a scholarship to university. But she's also thrilled the policy change will help other young women, including her 13-year-old sister, Corrina.

"I have a younger sister coming into high school next year who plays hockey," she said. "She's a phenomenal goaltender, and she wouldn't have an opportunity to try out for the junior boys' hockey team at the high-school level if this policy hadn't changed."

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