Girl joins boys hoops and school fights naysayer

LARGO — Aliyah Farley, 13, stood up to mostly taller and stronger boys in her first game as a Warrior for the Westside Christian School junior varsity basketball team. As a starting guard Thursday, Aliyah helped her team win a fast, bruising game, 24-22.

Now Aliyah, who plays fearlessly at 5 feet 5, has to stand up to the Man.

The Man, in this case, is Rick Preslicka, president of the Suncoast Christian Conference, the league the Warriors play in. On Friday, he declared Westside's victory a forfeit because Aliyah played with the boys.

The controversy sounds time-warped in a year when women played huge roles in the presidential election, and when girls routinely play on boys' teams — even football teams.

It has roused strong emotions at Westside, where the administrator and athletic director are women who themselves have bumped a few glass ceilings in their careers.

Administrator Vicky Jones says the school will quit the conference altogether before it kicks Aliyah off the team.

Once a Warrior, she says, always a Warrior.

It's not that the sixth-grader is the Warriors' secret weapon. Starting as a guard in her first game, Aliyah was overwhelmed at first by the boys playing for Spring Hill Christian School.

She soon gained her composure and threw herself into maelstroms of legs and elbows under the basket. She scored no points, but got two assists.

"I didn't think about playing boys," Aliyah said. "I thought about getting the ball to the goal."

Aliyah got a hug from one admiring mom while dashing by the sidelines during a timeout.

Referee John Hamilton said nothing in the bylaws prohibits girls and boys playing together. He has been refereeing 18 years, he said. Never had a problem with girls playing boys — "especially in a Christian school setting."

Coach Sean Ellington asked Aliyah to join the team. He liked her speed and athleticism in gym class. "I saw her moves."

The school has only 112 students and no girls team. Not enough girls are interested.

Aliyah has attended Westside for three years. The faculty and students are her extended family. Her mother, Rosaland Kenon, drives an hour and a half from New Tampa just to get her there every day.

On game days, Warriors dress up. They wear neckties and pressed slacks to school. Aliyah's mother bought her a new tan sweater and slacks so she could dress up, too.

The trouble started with an e-mail sent to athletic director Stacy Hill on Thursday morning from Preslicka, the conference president. He knew about Aliyah.

"We see a problem occurring if next year our conference doesn't have a boys volleyball team (and) some boys would want to play on the girls volleyball team," he wrote.

Coach Ellington decided to let Aliyah play Thursday anyway.

On Friday, Preslicka sent a second e-mail. He said Westside would forfeit Thursday's winning game and any other game Aliyah plays in.

"She is not to play in any games until we have a vote on this issue," he wrote.

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

Interviewed Friday, Preslicka said he had nothing against girls, and he didn't want to start a fight. Other than that, he had no comment.

On Monday, the Warriors face Inverness Christian Academy. It's a home game. Westside's administration made a unanimous decision:

All the Warriors will play.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2258.

Girl joins boys hoops and school fights naysayer 12/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 2:48pm]

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