A group of fifth-grade girls in Hoover, Ala. competed against boys while participating in a recreational league tournament this season. They won the championship, but did not meet the requirements to receive the trophy, which caused a stir on social media.
The story went viral after Jayme Mashayekh, a mother of one of the girls on the team, shared details of the girls team’s story in a Facebook post.
“Halfway through their season they were told they could not use the Hoover gyms for their practices unless they paid to play in the Hoover rec league. They were told to stay together as a team they had to play up a level in competition and play the 5th grade boys. The girls were middle of the pack throughout the season losing several close games by 1 point. Playing the boys was a challenge they rose to meet. It made them better players and a better team.”
The girls did not qualify for the trophy, not because of their gender, but because their squad was ruled an “elite” team — which means the players had been hand-selected based of their skill level. The boys they were competing against were in a “regular” league.
Here’s more info and a look at the entire situation:
Girls win the tournament, but don’t qualify for trophy
The girls team, the Lady Jags, defeated the Knicks in the final game that took place at the Hoover High School Multipurpose Gym Court on Feb. 28. They are listed as the champions on the city’s website, even though the trophy was given to the boys team they defeated in the title game.
“‘Excuse me? What?’ What did they do to get disqualified? Did they not pay their dues? Did they not play up a level in competition? Oh, it’s because they’re GIRLS?!?!,” Mashayekh wrote in her Facebook post. “So sure enough these 5th grade girls played their hearts out, left it all on the floor and battled their male counterparts only to be told, ‘No, I’m sorry you don’t count.'”
But the City of Hoover explained why the Lady Jags were not eligible to receive the award through a statement:
“Members of ‘elite’ teams are hand-selected based off their skill level. They do not go through the same talent evaluation as those who participate on regular league teams. Therefore, ‘elite’ teams willingly agree to compete at levels above their grade range to ensure fair competition for all youth athletes.”
The city also said that the Lady Jags were not the only winners who did not get a trophy. There was a boys “elite” team that also won a championship but didn’t get honored because they were competing outside of their grade group.
Lady Jags head coach was aware of the rules
In an interview with Insider, Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice explained that “elite” teams can join recreational league tournaments to “get additional games and for practice.” However, those teams are not formally part of the league, and therefore can’t win the championship.
The girls team’s head coach, Wes Russel, said he was well aware that his players were not going to get the trophy even if they won the tournament due to the rules they had already agreed to follow. He explained it in a statement of his own:
“Social media posts have negatively portrayed the rules and policies of the City of Hoover Parks and Recreation as somehow unfairly treating girls versus boys. The City of Hoover has allowed our team to utilize and practice in municipal gyms, just as they have done in my 12+ years of coaching in both the Hoover girls and boys leagues. Our team knew the rules of the Hoover Rec league prior to the tournament, and we still chose to have our team compete in the boys’ tournament.”
Elite teams get recognized by city
In Mashayekh’s latest update of her original post, she wrote that the City of Hoover and the Hoover Rec Center reached out to make things right for the girls. The city invited the two “elite” teams that won their grade brackets to a Hoover City Council meeting on March 6 receive recognition for their achievements.
Photos of the event were shared by the City of Hoover’s official Facebook page showed the Lady Jags received individual trophies and commemorative coins in the private ceremony with Mayor Brocato.
This kind of situation might not happen again because, according to Insider, Rice said there is a good chance “elite” teams will be banned from competing against the regular teams in the future.