Anything boys can do, she can do better.
Or at least that’s what one 11-year-old girl in Philadelphia is trying to prove on the gridiron. Caroline Pla has been playing football since she was 5 years old. She was an all-star offensive guard for the Catholic Youth Organization football league in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and was the only girl and played for the CYO Our Lady of Mount Carmel league in Bucks County for two seasons. She was planning to return for a third. But that was until the Archdiocese of Philadelphia stepped in.
“[Her father and I] were told in the middle of the season that Caroline could no longer play because ‘football is for boys,’” says Marycecelia Pla, Caroline’s mother. At 5-foot-3, 110 pounds, Caroline is not the typical football player and the Archdiocese says it is concerned for her safety–despite the fact that the young girl is considered an all-star junior varsity player.
“On my team I’m one of the tallest, but not one of the biggest,” Caroline says in a video on the Philadelphia Inquirer website.
In a written statement from the Archdiocese, spokesman Ken Gavin says “CYO football is a full contact sport designated for boys.” Coaches and officials in the Our Lady of Mount Carmel league tell The Philadelphia Inquirer they were unaware of the boys-only rule. Pla had played two games in the 2012 season before an opposing team reported her participation in the league.
Larry Mendte, a writer for “Philadelphia” magazine who has been following the controversy says the ban isn’t just because Caroline is a girl. He writes, “Pla was banned from playing football because she is a girl and she is good.”
Her mother began a petition on Change.org to encourage the Archdiocese to change its “no-girls” policy. The petition reads in part: “Caroline wants more than anything that this rule be updated and modernized to reflect the times. Simply change the rule and allow girls to play.”
The petition currently has more than 100,000 signatures, including Michael Cuozzo’s, who saw Caroline in action on the field. “I played with Caroline this year, and she is amazing,” says Cuozzo. “Let her keep doing what she loves!”
Another supporter of the young girl’s cause is Jim Kenney, a Philadelphia city councilman and devout Catholic. He wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in support of the Caroline in January. “[Caroline] cannot yet count on the Archdiocese,” Kenney wrote in his letter. “And that is a terrible irony because…its own Mission Statement declares that the Archdiocese exists to serve all our brothers and sisters in the name of justice.”
The Archdiocese hasn’t budged on the rules for its CYO league yet, but that doesn’t mean the Pla family will give up. In her last game on the CYO football field, Caroline sacked the quarterback in the final play.
“If I get the rule changed, I’ll be really excited,” Caroline says. “I’ll go back and play and hopefully someday I’ll see other girls back on the CYO field playing football.”