Fundamentalist Catholics forfeit baseball game

A few readers sent along an interesting story about a Catholic school in Arizona that defaulted rather than play a co-ed baseball team. It reminds me a bit of the New York Times story about the all-girl prom at Hamtramck High School. Both are stories about religion, while the all-girl prom was done for Muslim sensibilities.

Here’s the Associated Press lede:

PHOENIX — Instead of playing in a championship baseball game, Paige Sultzbach and her team won’t even make it to the dugout.

A Phoenix school that was scheduled to play the 15-year-old Mesa girl and her male teammates forfeited the game rather than face a female player.

Our Lady of Sorrows bowed out of Thursday night’s game against Mesa Preparatory Academy in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association championship. The game had been scheduled at Phoenix College.

Baseball, religion, gender all make for good topics for a news story. One reader sent along two stories that he thought handled the religion angle differently. The first was the AP story above. It included this bit explaining what type of Catholics were involved:

Officials at Our Lady of Sorrows declined comment. In a written statement Thursday, the school said the decision to forfeit was consistent with a policy prohibiting co-ed sports.

The statement also said the school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.”

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

It’s a great story, made all the more provocative by playing it straight. At ESPN, the story runs with a clip from Colin Cowherd’s radio show. He uses this story as a hook to discuss how religion affects all sorts of things in sports, riffing on why Brigham Young University doesn’t get invited to some bowl games. It’s actually really interesting.

Another story, which first ran in the Arizona Republic and was picked up by USA Today, begins:

All second baseman Paige Sultzbach wanted to do was play in her school’s state championship baseball game.

But because she is a girl, that won’t happen.

Sultzbach is a freshman at Mesa Preparatory Academy, which had been scheduled to play Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in Thursday’s Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship at Phoenix College.

But Our Lady of Sorrows, a fundamentalist Catholic school in Phoenix that lost twice to Mesa Prep during the regular season, chose to forfeit the championship game rather than play a team fielding a female player.

The reader who submitted this story pitched it as “the how-not-to-do-it” story. Fundamentalist, you know, is a word with a particular meaning.

Among some reporters, fundamentalist seems to mean something like “group whose views are stricter than mine.” But that’s not what the definition of fundamentalist is. Particularly when doing journalism as opposed to punditry. As the Associated Press Stylebook puts it (once again):

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

In any case, we have some good journalism being done on this story. Even the Arizona Republic piece goes on to provide more details, rather than labels, about the beliefs of the boys who forfeited the game:

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X, a group of conservative, traditionalist priests who disagree with the reforms of the Vatican II Council in the 1960s and broke with the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

So some hits and some misses in this coverage.

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  • John Bissell

    I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Colin Cowherd video. I used to listen to him once in a while but he took any excuse to bash religion and the Catholic Church in particular. I’m guessing he climbs way up on his moral high horse and excuse the expression Pontificates.

  • sari

    Shouldn’t the Catholic school been asked to provide the Biblical or theological basis for their decision? Does the Catholic Church have a stated policy which requires segregation of men from women for the duration of certain activities, something like the Orthodox mechitzah, or is this one group’s idiosyncratic take? As a reader, I would have liked answers to the questions above.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    The Arizona Republic take on this issue is definitely “the girl is a victim of rigid theocratic discrimination.” I thought the carefully worded statement by the SSPX was really good. They don’t want their boys in physical competition with girls in situations in which those boys may become guilty of less-than-chaste contact.

    It’s really about the boys and the esteem the organization has for girls. It’s not anything to do with victimization and discrimination.

    But in the Arizona Republic story, O Poor Sultzbach! She can’t get to play in the championship game! “Because she’s a girl.” No, it’s because the boys are boys.

    Sari, the Catholic Church may not have any policy specifically ordered to “boys cannot play athletic competitions with girls.” But it does have a policy that boys should treat girls with respect and with chastity. Physical competitions in which physical contact is probable such that less than chaste contact may occur is definitely a consideration. The SSPX, which has a tenuous relationship with the institutional Church, is stricter than most. But frankly, it’s about the boys, not the girls. It’s about the boy’s opportunity (and, speaking as a male, inclination) to exploit situations of physical contact for less than chaste enjoyment. I think the SSPX understand young men pretty well, and kudos to them for expecting, nay, demanding that their young men be decent and honorable. Would that the rest of society follow suit. The girl herself seemed very comfortable with the decision of the SSPX–disappointed perhaps, but respectful. There was a much more balanced story, I can’t find it now. If I find it I will post a link.

  • Mollie


    Absolutely! But it seemed to me that the reporters did ask for more detail from the school and that the school was tightly scripted in its response.

    But yes, I’d love to know more about their reasoning and a good follow-up should include that.

  • Martha

    The story did answer one question I had (why was she only playing in this final) but it didn’t address another one: is her team the only team with mixed membership or are there other teams with both boys and girls on the team?

    I think that’s important to know, because if all the other teams in the division are fielding mixed teams, then the SSPX school is the odd one out. However, if Mesa Preparatory is the only one, or one of only a few, then matters are not so clear-cut. Are the rest of the teams that only have all-boys rigid theocrats discriminating against girls?

    And what about college teams – if Ms. Sultzbach goes to college, will she be allowed play with boys or will she have to apply for an all-girl team? I think that’s important too, because if the trend is going to be for mixed-teams in secondary school, then third-level can’t be too far behind – or can it?

  • Martha

    sari, I think it’s less a matter of the chance of unchaste contact and more the old notion that boys should not hit girls. I noticed Mrs. Sultzbach said it’s not a contact sport so they couldn’t have been worried about her getting hit, but I think I’ve seen news coverage of baseball players getting hit by the ball or colliding with each other or getting spiked – I know nothing of the rules of the game, but it does seem to me that there is a chance of players getting into forceful contact with one another.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

    Technically, they were excommunicated, but you could argue that Abp. Lefebre knew he was, in effect, breaking from the Church. In any case, Our Lady of Sorrows does not reflect the doctrine or policies of the Catholic Church. Yes, chastity and respect are Catholic (indeed, Christian) virtues, but baseball? Really?!

    Since my relatively traditional Catholic parish fields a coed softball team, I’m thinking it’s an SSPX thing. That’s a distinction crucial to any reporting on them.

  • sari

    The rationale was not provided, Martha. That was my point. All we (you and Auth Bio) can do is surmise. Authentic Bio’s interpretation sounds like what we call a fence, a rule that’s imposed to prevent transgression of an actual religious law. Yours sounds more like plain old, unadulterated sexism–a cultural artifact which has nothing to do with religion.

    I can’t speak to this particular league, but a significant minority of high schools have co-ed sports teams, including some with female (American) football players. If girls were excluded, the league would never have allowed her to play in the first place; other team’s gender ratios are irrelevant.

    Did a little search on coed high school softball, and up popped an interesting tidbit:

    Yep, the Austin Diocese will host a coed high school softball tournament this coming July: “The purpose of this tournament is to build community through fun and fellowship among the youth of our Diocese.” Bishop Joe Vasquez could never be misconstrued as a liberal. He was installed here about a year and a half ago and immediately ruffled a lot of feathers.

  • Matt

    Among some reporters, fundamentalist seems to mean something like “group whose views are stricter than mine.” But that’s not what the definition of fundamentalist is.

    Yes, yes. However, if we can accept the existence (even though we protest) of a standard under which “fundamentalist” is routinely applied to strict Muslims, it seems reasonable enough to apply the same word to SSPX.

  • Martha

    Boys shouldn’t hit girls is sexism? News to my mother, who taught it to me and my brothers, and who, when she played club camogie back in 1940s Ireland, trained with the men because there wasn’t anyone else to train them.

    I think stronger people (no matter the gender) shouldn’t hit weaker people (no matter the gender) but I don’t think teenage boys being uncomfortable about knocking a girl off her feet is sexism as such; however, that’s not addressing the journalism of the piece.

  • Suzanne

    It’s baseball — nobody is supposed to be hitting anybody. If she gets hit with a ball, it’s presumably an accident, which could happen to anyone — even a female spectator watching the game.

    I would assume spiking is illegal, certainly at a high school level.

    OTOH, Authentic Bio’s interpreation has a certain logic to it, even if I don’t agree with it.

    Another case where refusing to comment about a controversy does a religious organization no favors.

    Thought both stories were less than clear about the reasons she sat out the previous games — did Our Lady of Sorrows ask them to sit her out, or did she or her coach volunteer?

  • Suzanne


    Also, thought the headline “High School Team Forfeits Rather Than Face A Girl” seemed like a bit of a cheap shot. The main hed handled it better.

  • Bro AJK

    I found myself confused as to which school the Title IX comment was directed. I would hope it was to Mesa, which apparently could not field a softball team, than to Our Lady of Sorrows. Mesa seems to be in violation of that. I know Mesa is trying to achieve a reasonable balance, but could they still be in violation of Title IX? That is my concern with the article.

  • Jofro

    There was a story I read somewhere that SSPX had, before the softball season began, inquired if any of the teams in the league were having girls in their teams. At the time, none did and so the all-boys team from Our Lady of Sorrows was able to join and play. The girl was added in later, which is why the SSPX-affiliated school made it clear it would not play. Had the league been co-ed from the start, the Our Lady of Sorrows would not even be having a team playing.

  • carl jacobs

    Full disclosure here. Colin Cowherd is by far my favorite Sports Radio personality. (As opposed to say Dan Patrick and his ‘Oprah and David Letterman have a Sports Talk Radio Love Child’ schtick.) Cowherd is indifferent to religion, but his opinion here is pretty reasonable. I expected him to be much more hostile. The media in general could learn alot from Colin Cowherd. He is forthright about his biases. He makes good reasoned arguments even if you don’t agree with them. He treats people with respect. But the most important thing about Cowherd is that he doesn’t hide his agendas. He doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t. When he says something, you believe he means it. The absence of that last trait is what I so despise about the media.


  • Steve Martin

    I guess they can do want they want to do.

    That would not be a hill that I would want to die on.

    Thank you.

  • carl jacobs

    Perhaps it is a function of the school’s refusal to talk, but the focus on Paige Sultzbach is somewhat misplaced. She didn’t really lose anything. The focus of the story should be on the players of Our Lady of Sorrows Academy. They lost the chance to play for a championship because of principle. How did they react? How did their parents react? That’s the most interesting part of the story, and it’s completely non-existent. Couldn’t a reporter had found some players and interviewed them?


  • bob

    What most people don’t get is that this is about *two* religions. I know several people who would simply object to mixing the religion of Baseball and Catholicism. Such ecumenical contacts will always lead to trivializing one or the other. In this case the purity of Baseball was preserved as the Catholics knew things got too close.
    The first time I heard of this story I thought it might be about what day of the week the game was played, expecting a Chariots of Fire sort of thing. To find it was this silly is interesting only that it made the news at all. Has anyone suggested the Catholic team might have known the girl was a slugger and bagged out to avoid her; the ultimate “intentional walk”?

  • Cathy G.

    Baseball players collide with each other all the time (at least in the infield).
    I think focusing on the girl – along with the religious school – is appropriate – she didn’t get to play in a game she wanted to play in.
    This story reminds me of ones from a few years ago about Muslim all-girl schools that wanted to play against public schools, but didn’t want men and boys attending their games. Could be interesting to compare the coverage.

  • Stan

    Isn’t there as much a problem calling the church “Catholic” as it is calling it “fundamentalist”? Clearly, it is not a Roman Catholic Church. Or an “Old Catholic Church.” It seems as much a journalistic error as that of referring to the “Catholic women priests” that you are always complaining about.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Here’s the full statement from the school in question:

    Statement concerning Our Lady of Sorrows Academy’s non-participation in the CAA Baseball League championship game scheduled for Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Our Lady of Sorrows Academy unfortunately will not be able to participate in the Charter Athletic Association High School Baseball League championship game scheduled for Thursday, May 10, 2012, resulting in a forfeit. This decision is pursuant to school policy which rules out participation in co-ed sports.

    This policy is consistent with the traditional approach to education. As a Catholic school we promote the ideal of forming and educating boys and girls separately during the adolescent years, especially in physical education.

    Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls. Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we choose not to place them in an athletic competition where proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.

    Admittedly, baseball is not a contact sport per se, but there are plenty of opportunities for playing hard and failing to keep respectful boundaries between a boy and a girl. Making a tag for instance or knocking a fielder over in a slide. Still, kudos to them for believing that boys should treat girls with respect and deference. But one thing is clear: It is not because they don’t think girls are as good as boys. Indeed, if boys need to learn to treat girls with respect and deference, one could conclude the opposite.

    And if I know the SSPX well enough, they really don’t care what the press thinks or what the media say. The school is not being held on a leash. It does not care if people draw the wrong conclusions. There is no gag order. The statement could quite possibly be more for their members than for world. They live according to their principles and if the world thinks they’re crazy or fools, so be it. It is not what the world thinks that matters.

    And if they get a raw deal in the media, it only proves to them that they shouldn’t have too much to say to the media to begin with, although that’s my conclusion and not an official representation of the organization. In general, the media are anti-Catholic and especially anti-traditional Catholic, so I’m sure the SSPX do expect ever get a fair shake for their stricter approach to the religion. So why bother when your words will be twisted into a stereotypical profile of anti-femininist bigotry?

    Of much more important news concerning the SSPX, which none of these baseball stories even touched on, was that the organization is on the verge of reconciliation with Rome and possible an internal split. with the Superior General Fellay favoring reconciliation and the other bishops, including the famous Williamson, inclining to the later if reconciliation occurs.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Cathy G: I agree, it would be interesting to compare coverage, and also with the Jewish sports team that almost didn’t play because a game was on a Saturday. It should be clear that the boys — meaning every single other player on both teams — also didn’t get to play in a game they wanted to play. They ALL wanted to play and none did. Either it’s a heroic stand for principles or a bigoted pigheadedness, and there will be those who conclude on either side. And the media are much more likely to conclude that a traditional Catholic organization is bigoted and pigheaded.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Bob, just to answer your question, my take on the SSPX is that losing in the face of striving your best builds character. It’s not only about winning. And they would rather have faced a superior team and lost than forfeit and lose anyway. Anyway, any team that would rather forfeit a championship game than face a superior opponent would probably not have made it that far.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Sometimes I wonder who is more intelligent and rational in setting some sports policies for young people–those who are concerned about the fact teen-agers are at a stage in life where their brains can be drowned by their hormones leading them to destructive actions. Or those who care only about some idealized concept of radical equality between the sexes.
    We know what side most of the media is on.

  • Julia

    I think there was a post at GR about public school teams that won’t play on Sunday morning or Wednesday evenings due to conflict with students’ church services and meetings.

    If I recall correctly it was about a cheerleading competition at the state level. Parents of kids who were not religious or who would have skipped services for a special event were very upset, but could not get the school board to change its rules.

  • Jeff Culbreath

    I think the SSPX position has three components:

    1. Male aggression against females is unchivalrous, at the least. Not that anything terrible is likely to happen at a baseball game: it’s a matter of cultivating a habit of chivalry.

    2. Men and women should not generally be competing with each other. Serious competition tends to erode the kind of respect men should have for women, and vice versa.

    3. Immodesty. The attire a girl must wear for a baseball – and the positions she may need to assume – are probably considered immodest.

    I tend to agree with these points in general, though not too rigidly. Co-ed sports is a bad idea.

  • Mollie

    Please remember to keep focused on mainstream media coverage of religion news, not the underlying religion story itself.