By Cherri Gregg and Todd Quinones
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — An 11-year-old girl near Philadelphia won her crusade to play football for a Catholic Youth Organization team, after the city’s archbishop reversed a boys-only rule.
Caroline Pla has played organized football since kindergarten, but was told last fall the no-girls rule would be enforced in her Bucks County league (see related story). She petitioned the archdiocese, leading to Thursday’s decision from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
“It’s a great step for the future of the church,” said Caroline’s mother, Marycecelia Pla of Doylestown. “Archbishop Chaput is starting with young girls, who are the future of the church, and I thank him for it. Baby steps, that’s all we need. If we put positive things out there like this people will come back to the church.”
“It means the world to me right now because it’s all I wanted all along,” says Caroline Pla, 11.
Chaput called the decision “provisional,” and said it may be reviewed or revised over time. Several other dioceses already allow girls to play.
“I didn’t even really think the rule was going to be changed because of all the things that they said,” said Caroline, who turns 12 on Wednesday. “Today is like double (excitement) for Catholics because now girls can play football and there’s a new pope.”
The Plas had taken their fight to the media, with frequent interviews and TV appearances. But they were not hopeful given their exchanges with the archdiocesan officials, who had expressed concerns about safety and the potential for inappropriate touching. Chaput’s decision came after a panel of parents, coaches, pastors and others reviewed the issue.
“Alternate options had merit and may be revisited … to ensure that any CYO sports program fosters an enjoyable and safe atmosphere providing for proper human formation, sportsmanship and Christian maturity,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Caroline has played football since she was 5. She had played CYO football for the past two seasons, apparently because the rule was overlooked. She had previously played on a Pop Warner team, and could have returned to that public league next year. However, she wanted to stay with friends and neighbors on her CYO “Romans” team.
Marycecelia Pla had the video camera ready after school Thursday and met Caroline, a twin and one of four children, at the neighborhood walking path. That’s when her daughter knew the decision probably went their way.
“I think a lot of my teammates know because of texting,” Caroline said a short time later. “They’ve been really excited.”
She does not plan to play in high school because she probably won’t be big enough to play tackle at that level. She is currently 5-foot-3 and 110-pounds, and made the all-star team last season.
“I’m not afraid or scared because as of now, I’m the same size, and we’re all the same age. We’re just little kids,” Caroline said.
The Women’s Sports Foundation believes co-ed training and competition fosters mutual respect, and takes boys and girls out of what one former Olympian called “these straightjackets of gender roles.”
“The civil rights laws protecting girls, minorities and the disabled are actually pretty good now,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a swimming gold medalist who is now a Florida law professor and legal consultant for the foundation. “But what’s missing is people not willing to take a stand and insist on equal treatment for all.”
She believes the publicity surrounding Pla’s fight “makes it that much less likely that another school or sports league is going to do the same thing.”
“She didn’t stand down or back down. She worked really hard, and fought, and got the word out, and stood up for what she believed in,” said Caroline’s father, George Pla.
“Things in life don’t come easy and you have to work hard for what you want,” says Caroline. “It might take some time, but in the end, it will all work out the way you want it.”
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