GOODING • Youth football coach Smokey Legarreta broke a rule for his stepdaughter.
Fifth-grader Waycee Irish wanted more time to hang out with her stepdad.
She wanted to play football with the boys.
The Gooding Recreation District forbids her: No girls allowed.
Legarreta feared for his future as a youth football coach in Gooding after registering his stepdaughter and a friend of hers, Justice Prince, and allowing them to practice for his fifth-grade Gooding football team.
They registered late. Legarreta picked up the girls' equipment outside of the district’s purview and out of the district leaders’ sights.
Gooding Recreation District Director Kent Seifert — who has no comment on the rule forbidding girls from playing — didn’t find out that Legarreta had signed up two girls until after Prince and Irish had practiced.
Seifert told Legarreta, who he holds in high regard as a coach and mentor, to take the girls off the team before the Magic Valley Youth Football League (fifth and sixth grade league) jamboree last Saturday.
Legarreta did not comply.
He let his girls play, just like all the other coaches in the league.
“I probably shouldn’t have let them play Saturday because we believe in rules,” Legerreta said. “It wasn’t the smart, politically correct thing to do, but I felt it was unfair to them. I told them before the final jamboree game on Saturday that this would their last game. I said, ‘After this, you won’t be able to play or practice, but you can come to practice and watch and hang out.’ I told them they were done. They were both crying and sad. They want to play.”
Gooding Recreation District Breaks League Rules
Gooding is the only team in the Magic Valley Youth Football League that doesn’t allow girls to participate.
It’s breaking league rules.
The Magic Valley Youth Football League rule book explicitly states – its first rule no less — that “fifth and sixth grade level boys and girls are eligible to play in the league.”
The league does not have enforcement power.
According to Magic Valley Youth Football League commissioner Mike Preece, the league “doesn’t govern individual towns.” It’s a “game body” focused on organizing play and schedules between the towns.
“The league’s position is certainly that all boys and girls can play,” Preece said. “We have girls that play in our league every year.”
The league is not prepared to deal with Gooding’s defiance … yet.
Preece said that the league is prepared to review the situation next year.
Spirit of the Rule: Without a ‘Reason’
According to the Gooding Recreational District’s board of director’s president Joleen Toone, who originally refused comment, the rule forbidding girls from playing has been in place since the district organized the youth football league, at least 10 years ago.
Toone has served as president since the recreation district’s inception in 1990.
On Monday, she was asked to explain the logic behind the rule
“I don’t think girls should be in tackle football,” Toone said. “I’m thinking, and we don’t even really have a reason, I’m just thinking injury-wise and concussions. What can happen to them down the road, lifetime, equipment fitting correctly? Girls are built different than boys.”
Toone said this is the first time the issue has come up in Gooding. But according to coaches across the league, girls have participated every year across the Magic Valley for some time.
Title IX Compliance?
According to Toone, the recreation district is in compliance with Title IX, part of the federal Education Amendment of 1972, which has dramatically increased female athletic participation the past 40 years
Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Toone said the district has girl’s volleyball in November. The league doesn’t allow boys to play.
“We try to make sure we have equal sports for both boys and girls, and we have football for boys and volleyball for girls,” Toone said.
Waycee Irish’s mother, Shawnee Clements Legarreta, said it should be her decision whether Irish plays.
She knows her daughter.
Shawnee, as well as another parent who chose not to have her name disclosed for print, told similar stories about the girls that come out to play in the league.
Some of them are better than the boys.
“(Waycee) is bullheaded, just like (Smokey),” Shawnee Legarreta said. “She is just kind of that girl. If you had seen her play soccer you would know she is very aggressive. She had a coach last year that requested her to be on her team because of the way she plays.
“A lot of little girls will just stand there, and they are little kids. They are little people. They will look around and play with their hair. But she is not like that. She is not mean in a bad way, she will run and kick the ball and accidently push you down. She gets these little bouts of competition.”
Waycee Irish still wants to play.
She made friends.
“It made me very mad,” Irish said. “I know all the people on my team, and practically they are my friends, and I don’t have any problems playing with them. All of my other friends are really girly and think the only reason I’m playing football is for the boys, so I can date one of them, but it is not true. I just play football. Hey, why not try a new sport for once instead of playing soccer every year?”
Irish said she played quarterback, left tackle and even a little wide receiver. She knows the positions. She practiced.
Her favorite part of football?
“The other day, I just played, I got tackled and it didn’t even hurt me. It was really fun,” Irish said. “I could run the ball. I love tackling.”
Irish doesn’t understand the rule.
“I think it is just a silly rule that should have never been invented,” Irish said. “We are the only district that has a rule against girls playing football.”
Change: Will Girls get a Chance?
Toone said she is not sure whether there is enough community backing to get the board to vote to overturn the rule. Despite her belief that girls should not play football, she did not say she would attempt to block a rule change.
Some parents have already come to the support of Shawnee/Smokey Legarreta and the two girls who last Saturday were crushed by the news they couldn’t play.
A petition was passed around last Saturday during the jamboree. There was a parent meeting. Some, with boys in the league, have called Seifert and Toone to find out more.
According to Smokey Legarreta, there will be another meeting with the board members Wednesday night.
Legarreta, who still believes in the Gooding Recreational District, was told late Monday that he will be allowed to continue to coach. But he won’t be spending his coaching time with his daughter, as he hoped.
“I want to say that the Gooding Recreation District is awesome,” Legarreta said. “They give countless kids every year an opportunity to learn and enjoy sports. I also think the people who run it are great and have served this community in the right way and their hearts are in the right place in most circumstances.
“But I believe this is wrong. It is discrimination and the rule should change. But I don’t think it’s going to happen, especially not this year. (The district board) doesn’t seem open to it all.”