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Thursday
Mar142013

Girl, 11, Allowed to Play Football, Philadelphia Archbishop Rules

ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) -- Caroline Pla, the 11-year-old football player who attracted national attention for being kicked off her local Catholic Youth Organization football team because she was a girl, will be allowed to play this upcoming season, the Archbishop of Philadelphia ruled Thursday. The church has agreed to give co-ed football a try.

"At the direction of the Archbishop, the Archdiocese will allow for co-ed participation in CYO football, effective in the 2013 season," the Archbishop's office said in a statement. "This approval is provisional. The decision will be reviewed and revised in the coming several seasons, as judged appropriate by the Archdiocese."

It's a major victory in a fight Caroline and her family have waged for months. ABC's Nightline caught up with Caroline after school Thursday, who was elated when she learned the news and hugged her friends.

 

The Junior Varsity Catholic Youth Organization, the Romans, located in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is a team of sixth graders who did not get into football to stir up controversy. They were just playing to win.

Caroline, who lives in Doylestown, Pa., signed up to play for the Romans in 2011, but after two years of playing and winning with her team, someone filed a complaint against the 11-year-old offensive guard.

"They won't tell [who] but they did tell us that someone called," said Caroline's mother, Seal Pla.

The Catholic Youth Organization said it would make an exception to let Caroline finish the 2012 football season, but after that, she was off the team.

"I was surprised," said Caroline's father, George Pla. "A little disappointed, but probably mostly surprised and shocked."

"I was always taught whatever the boys could do, I could do too," Seal said.

Caroline's mother didn't tell her the bad news right away. She said she found out at the end of the season, before the Romans' last game.

"My mom told me and I was just really mad, because I just really wanted to play and I wanted to be able to have other girls be able to play," Caroline said.

Different explanations were offered for the no-girls rule. One was that it wasn't safe for girls to play football, but given that Caroline's size and skills matched most of the boys on the team, that didn't seem to make much sense.

Christina Settini, a reporter for Forbes, heard about a meeting the Catholic Youth Organization had convened to discuss the rule. From that emerged an entirely different reason for keeping girls out of play: a concern about "inappropriate touching," Settini said.

Caroline's parents said they were appalled.

"We're in such a painful situation in the Catholic Church, and then for them to come out and use those words, that just puts another black eye," Seal said.

So with her parents' encouragement, Caroline set out to change the rules. She started her own public campaign, giving interviews, starting a Change.org online petition and even appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The petition received more than 100,000 signatures.

When that didn't work, she emailed the Archbishop of Philadelphia.

"It has come to the Archdiocese's attention that I cannot play, simply because I am a girl," Caroline wrote in her email.

But his reply to her seemed to take exception to her media campaign.

"I'm perplexed that you would contact me last, after publicizing your situation in both the national and regional media," Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in an email to her. "That kind of approach has no effect on my decision-making. CYO rules exist for good reason."

But as of Thursday, she has his support.

Caroline said she was not out to change the world. There is no all-girls football league where she lives and she just wanted to play football with her friends.

"I know there have been other girls wanting to play CYO football and there are girls that want to play in the future," she said. "So I just want them and me to be able to play."

And so Thursday was a win. A win for Caroline, and a win for her team, which is glad to have her back on the squad.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio