- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

Ten years ago last month, a woman played goalie for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game. The league made no allowances for her wouldn't have dreamed of it, in fact. Manon Rheaume minded a standard-size net, wore standard-size pads, and had to deal with any slap shots or screens that came her way. She was treated like any other goalie, which was all she expected and/or wanted. And although she didn't earn a roster spot during her 20 minutes of trailblazing against the St. Louis Blues, she did record seven saves in nine chances and carve a niche for herself in hockey history.

I found myself thinking of Manon last week while reading about the latest "first" for female athletes: Jenny Suh of Chantilly High School "defeating" a field of 71 boys to "win" the Virginia AAA golf championship. I use quotation marks because, well, it depends on how you define those words. Where I come from and men, as we all know, are from Mars you only defeat somebody in golf, you only win something, when you play the same course they do. And the course Suh played at Elizabeth Manor Country Club in Portsmouth was nearly 1,100 yards shorter than the one the boys played.

Nowhere was the difference more striking than at the par-5 finishing hole, which Jenny birdied to "beat" Matt Watson of Western Branch by a stroke, 138 to 139. For her, the 18th measured a modest 403 yards. For Matt and the other poor guys, it measured 548.

But this isn't about Jenny Suh. Jenny is the best girls' high school golfer in Virginia, a member of the 2001 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team. No one would be surprised to see her whacking the ball around on the women's tour someday. No, this is about something else. This is about the increasing feminization of sports. This is about co-ed gym classes and co-ed soccer and wildly divergent views about what constitutes fairness.

Co-ed soccer. There's a good place to start. In Montgomery Country, where I live, you're given two choices when you sign your kid up for rec soccer. You can opt for the "girls" division, or you can opt for the "mostly boys" division.

To recap:

"Girls" soccer good.

"Mostly boys" soccer good.

"Boys" soccer bad.

The logic of this totally escapes me. (Must be one of the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.)

If you wanted to get wild-eyed about it and I'm pretty much at that point you could make the argument that there's a Vast Female Conspiracy against men's sports these days. It's amazing, really, that football teams are still allowed to huddle without a woman being present to at least monitor the conversation.

I mean, it's bad enough that Title IX, an utterly noble cause, has resulted in the elimination of many men's teams. Now we've got Martha Burk going after the Masters because Augusta National doesn't have any woman members. (Funny, my wife taught at a high school in Bethesda for 20 years that had no male students, but such discrimination means less to some women, it seems, than their Right to a Tee Time.)

But getting back to Jenny Suh and her "victory." Golf tournaments from the male perspective, at least aren't like horse races. You don't handicap the field to make it "more interesting," to make it "fairer." Jim Abbott, you may recall, pitched in the major leagues despite having only one hand. Nobody bent the rules for him. Years earlier, Tom Dempsey kicked in the NFL despite missing most of his right foot. Nobody cut him any slack either. And while crippled Casey Martin gets to ride in a cart, he tees it up in the same place as everyone else.

You play a game, you play it under the same conditions as all the other competitors. Otherwise, what are you proving? That's what playing fields are, proving grounds. They certainly should be regarded as such when a state high school golf championship is at stake.

Women say they want equality, but in some instances, obviously, they want more than equality. They want to play from the red tees, too. And the disgrace of it is that they've turned high school athletes as disenfranchised a group as you'll find into implements of their agenda. I ask you: What recourse did the boys in the tournament have (assuming, that is, any of them could have envisioned a girl "winning")? What could they have done to express their displeasure with the set-up? Organize a boycott? Hire a lawyer? Get real. They had two options: grin and bear it. Theirs was the silence of the lambs.

And so we have Jenny Suh "prevailing" by a shot in the Virginia AAA golf championship despite having to hit her ball 1.24 miles less than the boys. Fortunately, not every sports organization is as misguided as the Virginia High School League. If the Boston Marathon operated that way, the men would start in Hopkinton and the women would assemble a few miles up the road in Framingham. If the NHL operated that way, Manon Rheaume would have tended goal with a butterfly net instead of a glove. If the Kentucky Derby operated that way, Winning Colors would have been given first choice of gates in '88 (for a race she won anyway). But why would any of them want to do something silly like that?

Jenny Suh didn't win the state golf championship. Even she said so, though not in so many words. If she played from the whites instead of the reds, she told the Centre View newspaper, "I'd still beat most of them." Most, sure, but not all. The only thing Jenny won, when you get right down to it, was our admiration. Give her a medal for that, if you must.


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