New Castle News

September 28, 2012

Ellwood girl wins fight to join football team

Debbie Wachter and Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Ellwood City High’s football team will have a new member when it travels to Riverside tonight, and it’s a girl.

Ashley Nicole Lytle, a junior, has joined the Wolverines as a placekicker, according to a press release from the Ellwood law firm of Bellissimo & Peirce.

She reportedly is the district’s first female football player.

Her accomplishment, though, apparently was not without a challenge of the district’s gender-related policy.

Lytle tried out for the team Sept. 19, and was invited by the coaches to become a member of the squad, the law firm said.

However, when Lytle submitted her eligibility documents to the administration the next day, the papers “were rejected on the grounds that she was a female and therefore ineligible to participate,” the law firm said.

Robert Lytle, Nicole’s father, addressed the school board Sept. 21 and was told that school district policy prohibited Nicole from participating in varsity football because of her gender, the law firm said.

The Lytles then retained Bellissimo and Peirce to pursue the matter further.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Ellwood Superintendent Frank Aloi, attorney Robert N. Peirce III called Nicole’s disqualification “unlawful and unconstitutional,” and a violation of equal rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The letter demanded that the district allow Nicole’s participation by 7 a.m. Wednesday or face a complaint that the firm would file in U.S. District Court.

The firm said it also would seek a preliminary injunction that would allow Nicole to join the team in the absence of a change of heart by the district.

According to the news release, the district relented the same day, and Nicole was practicing with the team Wednesday.

“We are extremely impressed with Ms. Lytle’s strength and courage to not just be Ellwood City’s first female football player, but to kick down a gender barrier that has no place in our society,” the firm said in a statement.

Ellwood will play at 7 p.m. today at Riverside High.

Aloi, contacted at the school this morning, said the district’s policy, approved within the past couple of years, states males wouldn’t play female sports and vice versa.

“The basic reason was not to deprive the girls,” he explained. “We don’t have that many sports. But if the boys would play a girl sport, it might deprive some girls. We also were concerned about the girls playing contact sports. That was the rationale for the policy.”

Thus, when Lytle approached the adminstration about wanting to play football, she was informed of the policy. In the meantime, she and her family secured legal counsel, Aloi said.

“They were going to file a petition for an injunction. I contacted the board members, we talked about it, and everyone agreed that if the parents were in agreement and the coach did want her to play — he felt she could kick the extra points, that it would be OK.”

The board consensus to let Lytle play was formed around mid-week by phone, Aloi said, but as of right now, her participation on the team is being allowed as an exception, not a policy change.

“The policy is still in place. Only the board can change policy.”

The matter will be further discussed at the board’s next regular meeting, which is Oct. 11,  he said.

Aloi, himself, said he sees Lytle as having a right to play if she and her parents are good with it.

He does not foresee any problems with her getting along with the rest of the team, he said. “We basically have good kids.”

An attempt to reach head football coach Don Phillips before deadline this morning was unsuccessful.

(Related Story: Wilmington soccer star Kyler Lum has become the first female to play football for the Greyhounds. CLICK HERE.)