By Joseph Harkins
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- In many ways, Keeling Pilaro is too good to be true.
The diminutive 13-year-old has gained national attention as a member of the Southampton High School girls field hockey team. Recently, the 4-foot-8 dynamo help lead the Mariners to a season-opening victory against New York rival Walt Whitman.
Now consider: Pilaro is a boy – the lone male on the team.
Pilaro, who hails from Ireland where it is customary for boys to play field hockey as it is for girls here in the United States, was banned in April from participating on the Southampton team. Some 100 days later, the ban was overturned – at least for now.
“I hope they’ll let me play for at least one more year to just keep it going because it’s so much fun,” said Pilaro.
However, in today’s high school sports world, everything is not all fun and games.
Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County, N.Y., high school sports, states “(Pilaro is) having a significant adverse effect on some of his opposing players. The rules state he would be allowed to play if he wasn’t the dominant player.”
Although Pilaro didn't score during his squad's one-sided, season-opening victory, he said that it was an enormous relief to finally be back playing the sport that he grew up with ... and intends to keep competing in as long as he can.
“I play a lot of sports,” he said. “But, none of them compare to how much I like field hockey. It’s just so much fun.”
In the meantime, Pilaro has the support of his family, which includes sisters who all play field hockey, but they are still concerned.
“If I may say, Section XI has had an adverse effect on his (Pilaro’s) self-confidence and self-esteem,” said his mother.
Just how long Pilaro will be allowed to play is unclear. He has not been granted permanent eligibility for his entire high school career.
“As a sport, it’s a girls sport,” said Ed Cinelli, executive director of Section XI. “When a boy plays, it leads the way for other male players to come in and take over.”
It is also unclear if and when his eligibility will re-examined.
“It’s not like I’m the best out there dominating,” said Pilaro. “But, I’m not the worst (player), also.”