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Seasonal Struggle: Parents threaten PSAL with lawsuit to force change of girls’ soccer program from spring to fall

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The PSAL's elephant in the room could be about to emerge from its corner.

Parents from two Manhattan schools have spoken with attorneys and are threatening to file a class-action lawsuit against the league in order to force it to move its girls' soccer season from the spring to the fall, the TimesLedger has learned. The PSAL is the only high-school athletic association in the state to hold its girls' soccer season in the spring, when it conflicts with the club season, during which a girl is more likely to be recruited by colleges.

If filed, the lawsuit, based on a Title IX violation, would argue that female players are being discriminated against because their season is held at a different, more inconvenient time than the male season. Parents of players at the Beacon School and Stuyvesant are spearheading the cause, multiple coaches told the TimesLedger.

There was a meeting of more than 100 girls' soccer coaches, athletic directors, referees and PSAL officials held in December at the league's offices in Long Island City to discuss the situation. Fliers have been sent to every coach in the city urging them to speak out against the perceived discrimination.

But the vast majority of Queens coaches believe that switching the season is not only logistically impossible, it could effectively crush the progress of the PSAL's girls' soccer program altogether.

"You're talking about 90 percent of the coaches and athletic directors who don't want to change the season," said Keith Horan, the girls' soccer coach at Arts and Business HS in Corona. "There are some delusions of grandeur (among some parents) when the reality is, it's going to destroy the league."

The biggest problem in the fall is field space. Girls' soccer games and practices would have to compete with boys' soccer and football. Some programs, like Arts and Business and Hillcrest, use fields at Flushing Meadows Park as their home for both their boys' and girls' teams. There are schools in Manhattan which play at Central Park. Even with a spring season, there are challenges in field space. The Cardozo girls' soccer season has to practice at Alley Pond Park sometimes due to the presence of boys' and girls' lacrosse and softball on its Bayside campus.

"We beg, borrow and steal for a field every day," Horan said.

There also aren't nearly enough referees, according to Allan Wharton, who assigns officials to all PSAL contests. In addition to the PSAL boys' soccer games, referees in the fall cover CHSAA boys' and girls' games, as well as men and women's college games.

"I have enough problems covering all the games now," Wharton said.

Wharton says that if the season were to be moved, both the PSAL boys' and girls' league schedules could only be six or seven games long. And even then, some of them might have to be covered by only one official.

"A lot of the schools depend on Parks (Department) facilities," said Wharton, who has worked for the PSAL for 41 years. "This is not like Long Island where you walk outside and there are two soccer fields, a baseball field and a softball field...Where are we going to go with this? Logistically, it cannot be done."

There is a recent precedent for a potential lawsuit. Parents sued the Mamaroneck and Pelham school districts in Westchester four years ago for the same reason and won, forcing the season to be moved.

There's no doubt a change would certainly benefit club players, who are worn down by strenuous schedules in the spring when the seasons conflict. Last year, Mariella Romano of Townsend Harris, who plays for the Rockville Centre Tornadoes, injured her knee, mostly because the joint was overworked.

Bayside junior Despina Psomopoulos has practices with her school team five days a week, along with night practices for Rockville Centre Tuesday and Thursday until 10 p.m. On Mondays, she has practice with the Eastern New York Olympic Development state team and routinely misses Bayside's practices. That's a full schedule without even mentioning homework and SAT classes.

"Her schedule right now, she has absolutely no time for herself," said Psomopoulos' father, John. "She's been up many times until 1 o'clock in the morning doing homework."

The conflict has also hurt school teams. Francesca Shin, Cardozo's star player, missed the PSAL Class A quarterfinals the past two seasons because she was playing for her club team, the Albertson Fury, in the State Cup. Psomopoulos only made Bayside's quarterfinal game last season because she was able to drive back from the State Cup in Saratoga Springs in time for a 4 p.m. start. Cardozo had an earlier game the same day, which Shin was unable to make.

John Psomopoulos and others who support the move say that changing the season would encourage more good players to play for PSAL teams. Cody Newman, who has earned a scholarship to Duke for soccer, attends Cardozo, but doesn't play for the school squad because it conflicts with Albertson.

"It's a lot of wear and tear and I don't think it's fair for the girls to have to choose between teams," Psomopoulos said.

Others contend that the majority of girls who play soccer in the PSAL don't play on club teams. Bayside coach Joe Corrado, who sees both sides of the argument, has four club players out of 20 and his team has more club players than most of the other 79 PSAL teams. The majority of Queens coaches the TimesLedger spoke with agreed that less than 10 percent of female players in the city play on premier club teams. Newtown coach John Ramirez said that 80 percent of the girls he gets have never even played soccer before.

"You're affecting multiple girls' lives," Horan said. "I've had girls with no soccer experience in their lives who have gotten free rides to college."

Longtime Forest Hills boys' and girls' soccer coach Bob Sprance, who says the thought that girls will be recruited more if they played in the fall is "a farce," proposes an interesting solution: a five-team showcase season in the fall and a full season in the spring for everyone. His reasoning is that only a handful of teams actually have players who would be recruited to colleges.

"You don't want to hurt girls not getting into schools, but it hasn't hurt in the past," said Sprance, who is one of 31 coaches in the city to coach both gender in soccer. "The bottom line is, it's gonna sacrifice teams at the bottom of the spectrum who can't compete in the fall."

The fear about the switch is that while the club players will certainly benefit from a change, the average player will be hurt. Some coaches believe that instead of playing a shortened soccer season in the fall, girls might choose another sport like volleyball, causing numbers to dwindle and teams to eventually fold.

"It will crush everything we've spent 25 years to build," Horan said.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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