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North Carolina is close to banning trans girls from school sports | WFAE 90.7 | #schoolsaftey

A bill that would ban transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams in middle, high school and college is on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans passed the bill by a veto-proof margin, meaning it’s likely to become law.

At least 20 other states have passed similar bans, and some are now facing legal challenges. But for all the national firestorm, trans athletes in girls’ and women’s sports in North Carolina are a small group thus far.

Maddie Jenifer, 16, is amongthem. She played a lot of sports growing up — basketball, T-ball, softball, gymnastics — but she never dominated the competition.

“In seventh grade when I did softball, I didn’t even play in any games because I was so bad. Like, I had no advantage over anybody on that team,” she said.

Jenifer is a rising junior in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. A few weeks ago, she tried out for her school’s coed cheerleading team. She also wants to try out for girls’ softball next fall — and for a simple reason.

“To be with my friends. I’m just trying to make friends and live my life and just have some fun,” she said.

But Jenifer would be banned from girls’ softball under a bill passed last month by the Republican-dominated North Carolina General Assembly.

Bill supporters say fairness, safety and opportunity in women’s sports is at stake

Jenifer is caught up in a political battle that’s stretched from high school gyms to professional leagues.

Trans advocates say their opponents are stirring up public sentiment against a tiny and vulnerable group of young people, while supporters of such bans — in North Carolina and beyond — say legislation is needed to protect fairness, safety and opportunity in women’s sports.

At a press conference in April, former UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell said trans women can have advantages gained in male puberty, and their inclusion could undermine hard-fought Title IX protections guaranteeing equal athletic opportunities for women.

“The purpose of Title IX was to make sports fair and equal. Females having to compete against transgenders is not fair and equal. Is there a place for transgenders in sports? Yes, there is. But it’s a separate category,” Hatchell said.

Those who support efforts to ban trans athletes in girls’ and women’s sports have tended to focus on competitive sports at the high school and college level. That includes former University of Tennessee swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied for fifth last year in a 200-meter freestyle race with trans swimmer Lia Thomas, who won the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAAs after being average on the men’s team.

“It’s simply unacceptable and the integrity of women’s sports is lost, and that is why I implore you to please pass legislation that preserves women’s athletic opportunities at all levels,” Gaines told lawmakers in April.

Those with views similar to Gains’ also say transgender inclusion could pose a safety risk.

North Carolina high schooler Payton McNabb told lawmakers she was knocked unconscious during a volleyball game in Cherokee County last year when a trans girl spiked a ball that hit her in the face.

“I suffered from a concussion and neck injury that to this day I am still recovering from,” she said.

McNabb said she still has impaired vision, partial paralysis, headaches, depression and difficulty learning.

“I may be the first to come before you with an injury, but if this (legislation) doesn’t pass, I won’t be the last,” she said.

The player who spiked the ball didn’t respond to an interview request.

Two trans girls have asked to play women’s sports in NC high schools in the past four years

For all the sound and fury, very few trans students are involved in school sports in North Carolina.

According to the state High School Athletic Association, in the past four years 16 trans boys and two trans girls have requested waivers to play on teams matching their identity.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said a panel reviews each request and considers the student’s age, medications they’re taking, their requested sport, and statements from the student’s doctor, parents, friends or teacher affirming the student’s identity.

All of this is to ensure the student will be safe playing the sport, and that “this is not something that the student woke up this morning and said ‘Let’s go down to the school and do this,'” Tucker said.

All but two requests have been approved. One was incomplete, and the other was denied for unspecified reasons.

A former volleyball coach herself, Tucker said it was “unfortunate” that a student was injured while playing volleyball against a trans student athlete last year.

“I feel bad for all parties in that case. I never want a student-athlete to be injured, regardless of whether it’s a trans student or not,” Tucker said.

Tucker has seen video of the play, and said the player who spiked the ball should have aimed away from others, and that the student who was hit by the ball could have better positioned herself to respond. She also said the transgender player had played high school volleyball for four years with no other incidents.

“It was unfortunate, one, that someone was injured. And two, it’s unfortunate that a person who had become a senior and had played their entire high school career without any major incident, without any real media hoopla, had to finish their career in that manner,” she said.

Tucker said if the Republican-backed North Carolina bill becomes law, she believes it would have a negative impact on trans students, but she also respects lawmakers’ views. She said the NCHSAA won’t fight the bill if it becomes law.

Maddie Jenifer, the rising high school junior in Chapel Hill, said if she’s banned from playing girls’ softball, she thinks she’ll be OK.

“Softball isn’t my life. Like, I’m not a huge sports person,” she said. “But there are people out there who — women’s lacrosse is what they’ve worked for their whole life. And how are they going to feel when you take that away from them?”

The bill won’t entirely keep Jenifer out of high school sports, though. She can still have a spot on the cheerleading team — which is coed.

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