False start? Rec league changes its mind, says girls can play

GOODING, Idaho (AP) - A southern Idaho sports organization has overturned its ban on girls in football, allowing young Justice Prince and Waycee Irish to rejoin the fifth-grade Gooding Recreation District football team.

The Times-News reports the girls were kicked off the team after their coach, Smokey Legarreta, allowed them to join in violation of the district's boys-only rule. District director Kent Seifert didn't return phone calls left earlier this week about the ban, and board president Joleen Toone originally said she didn't believe girls should play football.

But the board unanimously reversed that decision Wednesday evening after members of the community came out in favor of letting the girls play. The district belongs to the Magic Valley Youth Football League, and the change brings it in line with league rules.

Waycee is Legarreta's stepdaughter and Justice is the daughter of Shane Prince, who is Legaretta's defensive coordinator. Both girls registered for the team late, and district officials didn't realize they had joined until after practices had begun. Seifert then told Legaretta to take the girls off the team before the first games were held at the Magic Valley Youth Football League jamboree last weekend, but Legarreta refused, and allowed the girls to play.

Still, Legarreta told the girls that their games on Saturday would be their last and they would have to leave the team once the day was done. Justice and Waycee cried when they heard the news, Legaretta said.

Toone initially defended the boys-only rule, saying it had been in place for at least 10 years and that she didn't believe girls should play tackle football. But during the board meeting Wednesday night, she said she had done some research that changed her mind.

"All we needed to do was a little research, have a meeting, discuss and make a decision," Toone said. "I am all for kids participating whether it is a boy or a girl; if parents want to sign the form and let their daughter play football, that is fine with me."

Seifert said parents didn't reach out to officials to discuss the matter.

But Prince disputed those claims, saying he has record of 27 phone calls he made from his cellphone to Toone's cellphone two weeks ago, and not a single call was returned.

Seifert also indicated that it was procedural errors - including late registrations - that led to the decision to exclude the girls.

Legarreta said the situation was stressful for all involved.

"In the end, the right thing got done and that was what we were trying to accomplish," Legarreta said. "It's a small community and it has been stressful to everybody."


Information from: The Times-News