Catholic high school rejects female referee

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There has often been some argument among the rank and file of the Roman Catholic Church about women of authority but, this week, the dismissal of a female referee has raised questions about discrimination against women in sports.

At a Topeka, Kansas high school, basketball referee Michelle Cambell was told she was not allowed to officiate a men’s basketball game solely because she was a woman.

Cambell, a retired New Mexico police officer, has been officiating games for Topeka Officials Association for the past two years.

While preparing to call a game for St. Mary’s Academy, she was told that she was not allowed to referee because she was female.

According to the Kansas City Star, a school administrator approached her officiating partner Darin Putthoff and told him that Cambell was not allowed to call the game because, “that would be putting a woman in a position of authority over boys,” which is “a scenario that was contrary to beliefs at St. Mary’s Academy.”

The school is run by the Society of St. Pius X, which is a faction of traditional Roman Catholic priests.

It was founded after the Second Vatican Council, which had created more lenient and tolerant doctrine that better coincided with the modern world.

The Society rebelled against the changes and mandates a more strict and conservative approach to Roman Catholic teachings.

In support of his partner, Putthoff also decided to leave the court, saying, “if Michelle has to leave, then I’m leaving with her.”

Putthoff explained to the Star:

“I was disappointed that it happened to Michelle. I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

“This probably would have come up sooner or later, but I just happened to be the one who got involved,” Cambell told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“I was dumbfounded when I learned of it.”

Another referee, Fred Shockey, also refused to partake in the game.

“I was so disgusted,” he told The Star.

The Activities Association, which regulates high school league play in the area, is considering taking action against the private school, but so far administrators have been unable to be reached.

According to the Associated Press, the association’s executive director, Gary Musselman, said, “the organisation will not make a decision until it confirms whether St. Mary’s Academy has a policy of not allowing female referees to work boy’s basketball games.”

School principle Vicente A. Griego was said to be on vacation during the incident and has not responded to the Activities Association, but in a press release, Society of St. Pius X stated:

“It is not a question of women having no authority over boys as the quote in the paper (if it was accurate) seem to indicate. It is a question in athletics of men training boys to be men.”

They defended their rule and their decision to remove Cambell, stating:

“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 programmes for only men can teach the boys to be men, just as only women can truly teach girls to be women.”

This is not the first incident of discrimination against women by the school.

In 2004, the football team was scheduled to play a game against White City High school when they discovered that there was a woman on the team roster.

Freshman guard Kara Dowell was asked not to suit up by St. Mary’s officials.

Dowell told her team that she would sit out so that they could play, but her seven remaining team members showed a unanimous show of support, stating that if she wasn’t allowed to play, then they wouldn’t participate either.

St. Mary’s eventually forfeited the game, and White City refused to play the school in later seasons, but there were no other repercussions.

Dowell explained that she was disappointed by St. Mary’s rule telling the Lawrence Journal-World:

“We worked so hard for women’s rights, and they won’t play a girl. Girls have a right to do anything that a guy can do.”

White City principal Sid Tanner said: “Everybody’s been very supportive of her. That’s been my main concern, that she doesn’t feel it’s her fault that we’re not having a game.”

Cambell too has received much support from the community, as she explained to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“I’ve gotten overwhelming support from other officials, and that’s helped. Right now I’m trusting that the association will handle it in an appropriate manner. All the facts have yet to be gathered.”

The Kansas State High School Activities Association is considering preventing St. Mary’s from playing in sanctioned sporting events if it is found that this discrimination violates association rules.

As a private school, however, the Association has very little jurisdiction over what they are allowed to do.

The school’s position brings up a serious debate about the place of female athletes in male dominated sports.

While there are no women players in the NHL, NFL, or NBA and still only a handful of referees and officials, at the high school level, women are beginning to participate in typically male dominated sports.

Title IX, which mandates equal treatment for women in school athletics, has made great strides in providing opportunities for women to participate in their own sports and with their own gender, but there is still little to no crossover for women at professional levels in male sports like football and baseball.

For now, there has been no resolution to this case, and as stated, as a private school, the St. Mary’s Academy may still be perfectly within their right to discriminate based on gender, but that will surely not hold other women back from continuing to strive for equal treatment in sports.

As a side note, the St. Mary’s game did eventually end up taking place with the school administrator acting as referee, and in the end, St. Mary’s lost to Wichita, 60-51.

Dylan Vox © 2008; All Rights Reserved.