A coed Catholic Youth Organization basketball team in New Jersey is showing the true meaning of sportsmanship. The 11 fifth-graders — nine boys and two girls — at St. John the Apostle Parish School recently chose to forfeit their season rather than be split up.
The boys and girls played together because there were not enough girls interested to create a separate team. Many of the team's members had reportedly been playing together since second grade, and they played 10 games this season without complaint.
However, the team was informed by the league's director a few weeks ago that they had broken the rules by playing as a coed team, and the girls would not be allowed to play the final two games of the season. (According to CNN, the rules apparently allow boys and girls to play together only until fourth grade.)
The kids showed up to last Friday's game against St. Bartholomew the Apostle, where referees had been instructed not to work if the girls played. The coaches and parents left the final decision up to the team.
"One parent told me it's my decision (whether the girls play), but I said no way, I'm not making this decision for 11 10-year-olds," coach Rob Martel told NJ.com.
All 11 students raised their hands and chose to remain a team. When assistant coach (and mother to one of the girls) Keisha Martel reminded them they wouldn't be in the playoffs, one boy replied, "It doesn't matter."
But they weren't going to let that stop them from playing basketball. On Friday night, the team split up to play their own game, girls included, with half the members wearing shirts reading "#unitygames" that had been ordered by parents.
"It has a big impact on me because it shows that they care," Kayla Martel, one of the female players, said of her teammates' support. "I'm part of them just as they're part of me and they don't want to break that bond just like I don't want to break that bond. I think the rules are ridiculous."
A day later, the girls agreed to sit out the final game of the season to allow the boys to play, but the league's director reportedly called Friday's decision a "stunt," and Saturday's game had been canceled.
The kids' mature response has earned the pride of their parents and many others who have heard their story. It serves as a reminder of the importance of teamwork and fairness, and that winning shouldn't be the only object of sports. Sometimes doing the right thing requires sacrifice, and it's heartening to see that being recognized at such a young age.
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