Finally, A 2017 Inspiring Ethics Story! A 5th Grade Basketball Team Teaches Adults About Priorities And Values


I love this story out of New Jersey.

A Catholic Youth Organization 5th grade basketball team out of Clark, New Jersey had played all season with an 11-child roster including nine boys and two girls. In late January the director of the CYO league informed the team that the word had come down from the archdiocese that playing as a coed team offended Jesus or something and thus violated league protocol T team would either have to remove the two girls from the team or forfeit the rest of its season.

The adults running the team had screwed up, you see.

Oops. Sorry kids. Our bad, you pay for it.

These options were unacceptable, and any 10-year old would see it. In fact, any 10-year old did.

Was playing with the girls an unfair advantage? Was there any reason not to waive the bigoted, archaic rule, especially since the team had been playing with the two girls on the team already? Was it not  cruel to kick the girls off the team, when it was  adults who were at fault? IS THERE ANY REASON IN THE WORLD WHY A  5TH GRADE TEAM PLAYING BASKETBALL  CAN’T BE CO-ED?

The team took a vote at a gymnasium, right before a scheduled game, and agreed unanimously that it would either play all together, with the female team members, or not at all. The director of the league reportedly instructed the game officials not to officiate if the girls were in uniform and on the bench, whether they played or not.

In the crowd, parents and supporters of the St. John’s team cheered when the vote was announced. Some parents began to cry.

“Pride. Just pure pride,” one parent  said when asked how she felt about the vote. “These kids are doing the right thing. We don’t have to tell them what to do. They just know. It’s amazing.”

The refs wouldn’t take the court. (They should have.) The opposing  team, which had warmed up, left the gym. (They should have played the game, without refs, to support the protest.) St John’s forfeited the game,  but the team and the essence of what a team is was preserved, and so were ethical values like caring, responsibility, courage, proportion, empathy, fairness, respect. and the Golden Rule.

The kids also learned great life lessons that will serve them well, about

…how bureaucracies work, or rather, don’t,

…how not to address ethical dilemmas,

…how the way to expose bad laws and rules is to break them, expose them,and accept the consequences,

…how just because someone is an adult and has power doesn’t mean that they have the necessary wisdom and ethical skills to wield that power rationally,

…that unjust use of power should be opposed,

…that females still are subjected to crap like this, and males should help them kick it right out of the culture.

And, of course, that bias makes you stupid.


36 thoughts on “Finally, A 2017 Inspiring Ethics Story! A 5th Grade Basketball Team Teaches Adults About Priorities And Values

  1. What does it matter what sex a kid is as long as it does not give a team an unfair advantage?
    A friend of mine when coaching his 14 year old son’s water polo team found he was one player short, so he put his 12 year old daughter in to the team. He figured the opposing coach would not complain that his team lost 2-11 because their was a younger girl in the team. If on the other hand had he put his 14 year old son in his daughter’s team his son’s extra physicality and experience would have given the team an unfair advantage.

  2. I don’t know, this article is a real head scratcher for me. I understand that the kids played all season long. I understand the rules seem unfair and arbitrary but aren’t “the rules the rules”. Is it ethical to challenge rules by a show of hands? Nuns want to be priests? Show of hands. Want to watch Roger Federer crush and embarrass every player on the women’s tour by competing there next year? Show of hands. How about people not admitted to the bar calling themselves lawyers? Is that show of hands as well?

    • Not what happened. The team abided by the rule. The exception should have been made because they had been playing with the team all season.Thanks to the idiots in charge, there WAS no ethical solution. Teams were supposed to be 11 members. Why should St. John’s have to play short because the league screwed up?

      Reading comprehension: the team was given two, presumably acceptable (to the archdiosese) options: Play with no girls, or don’t play.

      What if the new ruling said they couldn’t play with two black team members?

  3. At least it was reversed on Wednesday, the 7-3 team will reschedule and finish the season. They really should rethink if the coed team has been doing well multiple seasons, we NEED more sportmanship around here.

  4. I should maybe clarify that I enjoy Jack Marshall’s writing and agree with him 90% of the time. But I think Mr. Marshall you are way, WAY off base on this one. What life lesson are these kids really learning? Take a look at the Trump freak-outs in Berkley and other cities. THAT’S the lesson these kids are ultimately learning: Trump can’t be President, we took a show of hands!

    • Wrong. This is pure civic disobedience of a cruel ruling regarding a bad Rule. It’s barely that: they authorities gave them two options, and they took the one that exposed It wasn’t an effort to destroy the Catholic Church, or unseat an elected President.

      • Moreover, it was the league that changed the rules mid-season, and the kids who wanted to play by the same rules they had been playing by all year. Pop analogy quiz: Who is like St. John’s, the Democrats who wanted to over-rule the electoral college and refuse to accept a duly elected President under the rules previous elections had been held under, or those who felt the rules as they had been understood the entire campaign should be followed?

        (Hint: it isn’t the NotMyPresident group.)

        • Thanks for the reply Mr. Marshall. I’ve reread the article and it’s not clear to me if the no-coed rule was in place and not enforced or invented mid-season. If it was in place at the start of the season then I still hold the refs and opposing team are the ethical actors here.

                • Sure. There are many laws that are are still on the books, but never enforced, and if they were suddenly enforced without notice, there would be a due process challenge. The term is desuetude , a doctrine that causes statutes, similar legislation or legal principles to lapse and become unenforceable by a long habit of non-enforcement or lapse of time. The legal doctrine that long and continued non-use of a law renders it invalid, at least in the sense that courts will no longer tolerate punishing its transgressors.

                  And for kids in a basketball league, half a season is a long, too long a time.

                  • Sorry Jack, have to weigh in one more time. I fully understand the concept of Desuetude. Systems like yours (USA) and mine (Canada) that are derivatives of English Common Law are filled with examples that confuse civil law (not susceptible to desuetude) and proper common law which is generally impervious to desuetude. Regardless, cute kids make bad law. One season is not too long to wait.

                    • I refer you to the tag here “law vs. ethics.” This isn’t about law, but about right and wrong. The rule was arbitrary and biased. It was imposed mid-season, benefiting no one, and harming many. The unity of the team showed loyalty and caring, and attracted sufficient attention to cause a reversal of the rule. That’s a great ethics outcome, and eliminated a bad rule: The Golden Rule and Utilitarianism as its best.

          • It doesn’t matter if it was the rule before. The team was allowed to play with that team. It has been validated by that non-enforcement; this is implied consent. The refs didn’t flag it and the league didn’t. The rule, if there was one, had been waived. You can’t suddenly start enforcing a rule midseason.

            Apparently the CYO has reversed itself, and that’s because it was on shaky legal ground, as well as getting terrible publicity.

            • Interesting point. Are “enacted” and “enforced” the same in ethical terms? Obviously the law must avoid selective enactment. Clearly that falls under discrimination. But they are not identical terms or even ideas. If everyone drives 10 mph over the speed limit and only group x is fined: yes, selective enactment. However, if the speed limit is “y” and the law decides to start enforcing “y” even though the last sheriff slept all day and didn’t feel like enforcing “y” you should still fine people for exceeding “y”. Don’t like it? Change the law. It isn’t “my cute kids decided y is unfair”. It’s: obey the law or petition through proper channels to change “y”.

              • I should also add I am actually on the side of anyone who wants access to sports, music anything without facing reasonable barriers. But this kind of ex post facto reasoning is exactly the same as the pussy hat crowd: I don’t like the result, so the law is wrong. Seriously, you don’t like the arch diocese weighing in? Don’t send your kids to Catholic school.

                • You have it exactly backward. The ex post is in the sudden rule enforcement, as I explained. This is a bait and switch: the kids joined the team under one representation, and the rule was changed after they did. They are not protesting the rule; they are refusing to play under a rule that they wouldn’t have played under anyway…if they knew it was going to be enforced.

              • Pay attention, please. I didn’t say they are the same. I said that their effects are indistinguishable: whether an unenforced rule is suddenly enforced after those affected by it have relied on its non enforcement, or whether the rule or law has been enacted after everyone has assumed the laws or rules were settled, the result is unfair, and the process is irresponsible.

                • I agree the process seems somewhat irresponsible. I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m Canadian but my understanding is Catholic schools have some discretion public schools do not. I’m not a lawyer (I am a chemist) but I don’t think I would build a legal defense around an unenforced law being applied, provided that application was not specifically discriminatory. I enjoy your writing Mr. Marshal but I still think that unless the rule materialized in mid season I argue for the school board. Fight to scrap the rule, defund the school or send your kids to PS 123. Don’t send your kids to Catholic school, let your daughter join the team and THEN complain.

                    • Thanks Jack. I respect you as an island of sanity in an ocean of insanity (my country too). My feeling is just this: Would it not be more ethical for this team to forfeit? Honestly and robustly forfeit? Then they would have great moral standing to say: “Look at us, we followed the rules. AND THE RULES ARE WRONG”. I’d respect that. It’s a moral/logic argument. Not argumentum ad passiones

                    • Perhaps their response was materially the same. Ethically or (strictly) legally I still don’t think so. But not having access to more information about this specific case, I’ll concede the field to you. I grew up on American TV. THIS is how change should work:

          • Reading the linked articles, it seemed they’d been coed last season. The Issue came to the leagues attention when a girl wanted to play for the opposing team but was shot down and sued.

      • I’d agree with this. There are some sports like football (if you still support brain damage) and (adult) basketball where male players are at a distinct advantage, but there’s no real reason to have gender segregation in most sports, where agility and skill are usually more important than raw size and strength. I think we’re still in the mode of ‘this is how things have always been done’ more than anything, but if more schools follow the example of this team, that may hopefully change. Per your actual point, I think the reason we haven’t seen a woman in MLB is that girls are steered away from hardball and into softball at a young age, again due to ‘this is how we’ve always done it’. High school and college athletes are the lifeblood of the farm system regardless of how a particular sport organizes it.

  5. Happy with the result, but isn’t fifth grade the sweet spot for girls being taller then boys (ages 11-14)?

    I don’t in the least think this crossed the diocese mind, but had they argued that, would it change the debate any?

    • (Welcome back!)

      No, because the issue isn’t just the bias, but also, and mainly, the inherent unfairness of changing the rule after the team has been assembled and has started the season.

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