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Alabama city wants ‘fair’ rules after girls basketball team denied trophy despite beating boys team

A team of fifth-grade girls who were forced to play against boys in a youth league were not recognised as the champions, despite winning a league title, when the trophy was awarded to the losing boys’ team instead.

The game and aftermath in the town of Hoover, Alabama, last month has drawn national outrage and scrutiny, and team parents have shared their frustrations and disappointment in the outcome and league policy that prevented the trophy going to the winning team.

“I’m disappointed I have to tell my daughter that things like this still happen,” one of the girls’ mothers Jayme Mashayekh shared on Facebook. “Most of all I’m disappointed in my city who won’t allow some 5th grade girls to play basketball.”

Hoover and its parks and recreation departments – dogged by poor optics of the girls being denied their victory, criticism of its facilities policies and concerns of sexism over the outcome – announced that they will review their policies “to ensure that all competition and recognition procedures are fair to all participants and that those procedures are more clearly understood.”

The girls were told by the league that they could not continue to use Hoover gyms for their practices unless they were enrolled in the city’s league with the boys. Ms Mashayekh said that they were told before the title game that they could play in the championship, “but if they won they wouldn’t be allowed to have the trophy.”

“‘Excuse me? What?’ What did they do to get disqualified?” she said. “Did they not pay their dues? Did they not play up a level in competition? Oh, it’s because they’re GIRLS?!?!”

Hoover city administrator Allan Rice told Insider that that parents’ frustration came from a misunderstanding.

“This is one parent who got on Facebook and, obviously, did not understand the process,” he said. “So there must have been a breakdown between the coach and the parents.”

In a statement in response, the city said its parks and recreation department “for many years” has allowed “elite” teams to participate in tournaments, and are not subject to the same “talent evaluation” as players in the regular recreation league. Those “elite” teams “willingly agree” to compete against recreation league teams in a different division within their grade level, or above their grade level “to ensure fair competition” among all youth athletes, according to the city. The winning girls played on an “elite” team, composed of skilled players, and are not part of the regular recreational league.

“If an ‘elite’ team participates in [a Hoover] youth tournament, and makes it to the championship round, the rules state that they cannot receive a trophy as a result of that win,” the statement reads. The rule has applied to both boys and girls teams, according to the city.

Within the same tournament, another boys team won a championship game but were not named the winners because they were competing outside their grade group, according to the city. “This team included the son of a City of Hoover elected official,” the city’s statement read. “This clearly indicates that the same rules applied to all teams regardless of gender.”

The boys team that played against the girls were part of the “regular” recreational league, where more-skilled players spread out among other teams.

Mr Rice told Insider that “elite” teams generally play teams throughout the region but also can join recreational league tournaments to “get additional games and for practice.”

“These elite teams come in and they request to participate in the tournament and they’re told you can participate, but you’re not part of our league, so you can’t be named the champion for your grade level,” he added. “They agreed to that. The coaches knew that.”

He said the policy has been in place “for probably 15 years” and applied across teams “regardless of gender.”

Ms Mashayekh said the city and the recreation centre “have reached out to make things right for the girls.” She said she hopes the discussion “will be a step in the right direction for more/better access to facilities and opportunities for our female athletes.”

Hoover city officials invited both teams to be recognised at a city council meeting on 6 March.