Emily Nash is an incredibly gifted high school junior who golfs at Lunenburg High School in Massachusetts. On Tuesday, she shot the best round of golf during a Division 3 tournament. But despite beating her closest competitor by four strokes, the runner-up ended up taking the tournament trophy home.
Lunenburg High School doesn't have a girls' golf team, so Nash plays in the boys' team. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the organization that runs the tournament, only allows boys to win championships. On top of that, Nash will not be invited to next week’s state championship, according to the Global Golf Post.
The tournament runner-up, Nico Ciolino, did offer Nash the trophy, saying she was the one who earned it, but Nash reportedly declined.
The MIAA rules state:
“Girls playing on a fall boys’ team cannot be entered in the Boys Fall Individual Tournament. They can only play in the Boys Team Tournament. If qualified, they can play in the spring Girls Sectional and State Championships.”
Tournament director, Kevin Riordan, told the Telegram & Gazette that he had made Nash and her coach aware of the rule before the tournament.
But in an interview with WPBF, Nash claimed that she wasn't made aware of the rule.
"I wasn't aware that if I won I wouldn't get the title or the trophy," Nash said. "I feel like it's a bit unfair."
After online outrage, with a writer for PGA saying that the decision was "so bad it makes a shank look good," the MIAA reaffirmed the rule in a statement on Thursday:
"The MIAA and its member schools congratulate all golfers on their performance at the recent fall sectional team golf tournament. In particular, the skill of the female golfer from Lunenburg was on display as she represented her personal ability and effort on behalf of the Lunenburg High School Boys Golf Team. The MIAA is proud to have her and her teammates participate and represent the 230,000+ student-athletes in our schools."
"The MIAA Golf Committee, with a membership of school representatives from each district in the state, has worked over the years to establish and manage both a boys and girls golf tournament. In the case of golf, these tournaments exist in two different seasons. The boys team and individual tournament has taken place in the fall and the girls team and individual tournament has taken place in the spring. During a sectional tournament round of golf, a golfer’s score is submitted for both an individual and team competition at each location."
"To offer an opportunity for team play to all MIAA member school students, female golfers have been welcomed to participate on a boys team in the fall if their school did not sponsor a girls golf team in the spring. Approximately 26 female golfers participated in 2017 fall boys golf tournaments. This opportunity has been met positively by many student-athletes and school programs. Given this team opportunity during the fall tournament season, it has been clear to participants that female golfers playing in the fall boys team tournament are not participating in an individual capacity. The individual tournament opportunity for female golfers takes place during the spring season. As stated in the official MIAA 2017 Fall Golf format, “Girls playing on a fall boys team cannot be entered in the boys fall individual tournament. They can only play in the boys team tournament. If qualified, they can play in the spring Girls Sectional and State Championships.”
"We congratulate Lunenburg’s female golfer on her performance and wish her continued success as she participates once again in the MIAA Girls Individual Golf Tournament in the spring of 2018."
David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, says that the decision may violate Title IX. The law allows contact or skill-based sports to be separated, so MIAA could have outright refused to allow Nash to compete in the tournament.
However, once Nash was allowed into the tournament, Cohen says that Title IX forces MIAA to treat her equally. "Denying someone the trophy and the championship is far from treating them equally," Cohen told NPR.
He cited the case of a female Duke student who was allowed to try out for the football team. The player, Heather Mercer, was accepted into the team, but claimed discriminatory behavior, such as not being allowed to attend a team summer camp. A judge ruled that once she joined the team, Duke were legally required to treat her the same as the men.