There's been an odd little crisis brewing in the high school sports world of Kansas where a religious school refused to allow a referee who happens to be female to call the fouls in a boys' high school basketball game. The reasons cited at the time by St. Mary's Academy officials, which is about 25 miles northwest of Topeka, weren't that clear, but it seemed to have something to do with the fact that they didn't believe women should have authority over men. Now the Kansas High School Activities Association is considering taking action against the private school, which could amount to a ban on its participation in official contests against schools that are members of the association. Since the private school plays maybe two games a year against member schools, this amount to little punishment, if any. This is still a contentious issue since only recently have female referees called NBA games. Rarely in high school and as my time as a junior high coach did I ever have a female referee an organized basketball game in which I participated (and no one ever made an objection).
A little background is necessary to understand why a school would do this. The school is owned by Society of St. Pius X, and they follow pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic laws. In fact, Pope John Paul II excommunicated the now deceased society's leader, the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the late 1980s.
With all that in mind, consider how the reporter for The Kansas City Star covered the controversy and how the views of the school were portrayed in the absence of any official word from the school:
St. Mary's, which houses students in kindergarten through 12th grade, separates boys and girls in virtually all endeavors. Some women teach boys, and the girls can participate in intramural-type sports.
According to the St. Mary's Web site, "The ultimate goal of our schools is to form good Catholics and good citizens in such a manner that the whole person may be submitted to the reign of Jesus Christ in the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical spheres."
A lot could be inferred from the statement, but it's better than nothing since the school didn't respond to requests for comment. Since this story was published, the society came out with this statement on its Web site:
ST. MARY'S ACADEMY (in St. Mary's, KS) policy is to have only men in their sports program for boys.
Sports for boys are seen as training for the battlefield of life where the boys will need to fight at times through great difficulties. As such, it is more appropriate that it be men who train and direct the boys in these sports programs for only men can teach the boys to be men, just as only women can truly teach girls to be women.
It is not a question of women having no authority over boys as the quote in the paper (if it was accurate) seems to indicate. It is a question in athletics of men training boys to be men.
Apparently that subtle distinction wasn't good enough for the high school association, which received an official response regarding the incident from the academy on Thursday. The response in the form of a letter has not leaked out, and apparently it is still be evaluated.
While most stories on this incident have appropriately pointed to the school's September 2004 refusal to play a football game against another school because that school had a girl on its roster, reporters aren't seriously trying to understand and explain the theology or religious law, or lack thereof, supporting the school's decision.
The basic facts are in the stories, but readers are left wondering why the school has these policies. Perhaps with the help of school officials, which appear to not be communicating with media, a better explanation could be given for the school's apparent split with the Catholic Church and its beliefs.