ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jaelyn Bates knows basketball, and she’s pretty good, according to her dad, Barry Bates.
In fact, the 10-year-old Tierra Antigua Elementary fourth-grader was invited to join an all-boys competitive team.
That hasn’t been a problem – until now.
A few weeks ago, the girl’s coach, Kevin Frey, signed up his three Frey Basketball Academy teams – a third- fourth- and fifth-grade team – for the Southwest Salsa Slam, hosted by the New Mexico Select Youth Sports Club. Frey was informed after he registered that Bates would not be able to play with her fourth-grade team because she’s not a boy. The club uses the American Athletic Union requirements that say boys can only play in the boys division, and girls can only play in the girls division.
Frey said he was shocked, and that New Mexico Select has never enforced this rule in the past. He said no other club has forbidden Bates from playing with her team.
“We’ve had 65 games, and this is the first time we ran into this,” he said. “It’s not unusual to have co-ed teams. It’s about can you play. It’s not about are you a boy or a girl.”
Frey objected and subsequently all three of his teams were removed from the tournament.
Select’s attorney, Matthew M. Beck, sent a news release to the Journal.
“We understand the frustrations that sticking to these requirements may bring to some, but our priority is to keep our young athletes and our volunteers who help with the tournament safe, and to provide a competitive forum for all young athletes,” the release quotes the group’s board as saying. “New Mexico Select will continue to stand by our eligibility requirements, in direct alignment with the AAU national eligibility requirements.”
The release added that eight teams asked for waivers allowing co-ed teams to compete, and seven of those opted to have their girls compete in the all-girls division.
Bates overcame her share of obstacles to get where she is. She was born with a heart defect that kept her from walking until she was 2, but she found that she loved basketball. The girl, who has been playing the game for three years, was named MVP at a local tournament last month. She scored 25 points in the championship game, according to her coach.
Barry Bates said his daughter did not set out to play on an all-boys team. He noticed she was more advanced than a lot of the girls on her team, which practiced in the same place as Frey’s boys. One day, Bates asked if his daughter could practice with the boys to give her some new competition. She not only was able to keep up with the boys, she was better than some of them. She was eventually invited to join Frey’s program.
“She always gives 100 percent,” Frey said. “She’s a competitor, and she makes others around her better. She’s definitely earned every minute she has played.”