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Girls Basketball Team Kicked Out Of Boys League Championship After Defeating Boys Teams

A 6th grade girls team from Kentucky was set to go for the year-end championship tournament, but was told they were banned due to fears boys teams might 'retaliate' if they lost to the girls team.

Young female student holding a basketball on the court
miodrag ignjatovic/GettyImages

A 6th-grade girls basketball squad from Next Level Academy in Kentucky that had been dominating all season playing in a boys' league was suddenly banned from participating in the final championship game.

The city-wide basketball league, Southwestern Ohio Basketball (SWOB), made the call because they believed that 11 to 12-year-old girls and boys competing against each other on the court could pose a liability risk leading to violence, even though the girls team had been winning 7-1 all season without incident.

SWOB President Tom Sunderman expressed concern in a statement:

"Doing this for 28 years, what we have worried about is a boys team losing to a girls team (especially in the year end tourney), they may get frustrated and retaliate against a girl."
"Then we have liability issues.”

Prez, a social media user on X (Formerly Twitter), didn't buy it.

"What he meant to say was they can’t have their boys being emasculated by a better girls team… it would be a blow to their developing manhood to get beat by girls."

Next Level team director Larry McGraw didn't think twice when he registered the team to play on the boy's league as "male," given the precedent that the rules of youth basketball were akin to, as he put it, the "Wild West," with different leagues and tournaments across the country applying varying rules and regulations.

McGraw said that in his experience, younger players at an advanced level have challenged themselves in the past by entering a league with older players. He also said it wasn't unheard of for a girl to play on a boys' team or for a girls' team to compete against boys.

Yet Sunderman maintained that the registration was a deception on Next Level's part.

He said he coached against a team of boys for the first game last November but was disappointed to discover the rest of the games were being played by girls.

He explained:

"In November of 2023, Next Level and Larry McGraw deceptively registered a girls team into the 6th grade boys league and under the gender listed as MALE."
"We entered them into the league assuming they were a boys’ team as conveniently no roster was ever provided."
"Subsequently, their first game was filled in by a boys 6th grade Next Level team because they played the 6th grade boys Cincinnati Royals team - coached by myself, so there was no reason to suspect anything different."

He continued:

"It wasn’t until late January/early February that several teams from the 6th-grade division started traveling down to Kentucky to play their scheduled games, that it became apparent that the Next Level team was, in fact, a girls team."
"Several complaints from coaches and teams were filed because of this deception."

Social media users, however, saw SWOB's statement as deflecting from another issue, one that accused the league of trying to keep their feelings from getting hurt in the event the boys were defeated by girls.

X user @WithChem summed it up perfectly, saying the league banned Next Level girls basketball from playing in the championship simply because they were girls.

Users wanted answers.

Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor, said the issue wasn't whether or not rules were broken but more about the rules and their impact on aspiring young women.

Brown, who focuses on Black women and girls in sports and how they're portrayed in the media, saw this as an instance where women are punished for being successful.

She said:

"It happens all the time. There's this mythos that boys and men are innately always better than girls and women when it comes to sports."

"Shouldn't we be more concerned that they would feel the need to retaliate because they feel like they lost to someone who's supposedly inferior to them? Is that the argument?" said Brown, adding:

"If that's the rhetoric, then that's where we need to start making changes."

McGraw said the girls were never in any real danger during the games, aside from the occasional side-eye.

He recalled:

"They got giggles, they got laughs, and people talked about them... you know, the looks."
"There's a lot of that and I think this was a great opportunity for them to say, 'Yeah, we're pretty darn good and you should respect us.'"

Sunderman said the league offered the girls' team a chance to play in another end-of-year tournament for girls, "just like all other girls teams," but the academy turned down SWOB's offer and pulled its other teams from their tournaments in protest.