Fundamentalist Catholics forfeit baseball game

A few readers sent along an interesting story about a Catholic school in Arizona that defaulted rather than play a co-ed baseball team. It reminds me a bit of the New York Times story about the all-girl prom at Hamtramck High School. Both are stories about religion, while the all-girl prom was done for Muslim sensibilities.

Here's the Associated Press lede:

PHOENIX -- Instead of playing in a championship baseball game, Paige Sultzbach and her team won't even make it to the dugout.

A Phoenix school that was scheduled to play the 15-year-old Mesa girl and her male teammates forfeited the game rather than face a female player.

Our Lady of Sorrows bowed out of Thursday night's game against Mesa Preparatory Academy in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association championship. The game had been scheduled at Phoenix College.

Baseball, religion, gender all make for good topics for a news story. One reader sent along two stories that he thought handled the religion angle differently. The first was the AP story above. It included this bit explaining what type of Catholics were involved:

Officials at Our Lady of Sorrows declined comment. In a written statement Thursday, the school said the decision to forfeit was consistent with a policy prohibiting co-ed sports.

The statement also said the school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where "proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty."

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

It's a great story, made all the more provocative by playing it straight. At ESPN, the story runs with a clip from Colin Cowherd's radio show. He uses this story as a hook to discuss how religion affects all sorts of things in sports, riffing on why Brigham Young University doesn't get invited to some bowl games. It's actually really interesting.

Another story, which first ran in the Arizona Republic and was picked up by USA Today, begins:

All second baseman Paige Sultzbach wanted to do was play in her school's state championship baseball game.

But because she is a girl, that won't happen.

Sultzbach is a freshman at Mesa Preparatory Academy, which had been scheduled to play Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in Thursday's Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship at Phoenix College.

But Our Lady of Sorrows, a fundamentalist Catholic school in Phoenix that lost twice to Mesa Prep during the regular season, chose to forfeit the championship game rather than play a team fielding a female player.

The reader who submitted this story pitched it as "the how-not-to-do-it" story. Fundamentalist, you know, is a word with a particular meaning.

Among some reporters, fundamentalist seems to mean something like "group whose views are stricter than mine." But that's not what the definition of fundamentalist is. Particularly when doing journalism as opposed to punditry. As the Associated Press Stylebook puts it (once again):

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

In any case, we have some good journalism being done on this story. Even the Arizona Republic piece goes on to provide more details, rather than labels, about the beliefs of the boys who forfeited the game:

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X, a group of conservative, traditionalist priests who disagree with the reforms of the Vatican II Council in the 1960s and broke with the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

So some hits and some misses in this coverage.

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