- - Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Years ago, the 6th grade girls’ county travel team I coached had to play in a boys’ AAU winter league. The girls’ league in our age group collapsed, so it was either that or not get to play these important extra games.  

One of the teams had a guy our girls called Stinky. At one timeout, the girls informed me they no longer were going to cover him because he smelled so bad.

Stinky’s, uh … essence … gave him an advantage, but the boys didn’t need it. In our county league, which was girls’ teams only, we won 80% of our games and finished second. In the boys’ league, we lost every game.

The boys were stronger, so every 50/50 ball went their way. They could jump higher, so they dominated the boards, even though they weren’t much taller. They were faster, so only with pristine ball movement could we even get a shot off. Even inbounding the ball was a challenge.

I’ve thought about that as the debate over transgender athletes in girls’ sports has unfolded. I’ve coached for 40 years, everything from kindergarten to Think Tank League adult softball, and there’s simply no question biological boys playing against biological girls is unfair.  

I don’t know the answer — there are not enough transgender students to form leagues, and biological males do have teams available to them with male teammates, so they can’t be said to be deprived of an opportunity to play and earn scholarships.

This also is why I can’t be part of the conservative war party that has formed against South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. A rising star, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate whose hands-off approach to coronavirus management was hailed as a significant success story, Mrs. Noem has taken a lot of hits in the last two weeks for refusing to sign legislation that would outlaw biological boys playing in girls’ sports.

Mrs. Noem tried to enact a “style and form revision,” normally used only to correct technical language, to make changes to the legislation. But a lot of conservatives regarded those changes as “gutting” the legislation, and the legislature rejected her changes 67-2.

One had to do with how students would be asked to verify whether they had taken anabolic steroids within the last year. Another sought to ease the impact on school systems of the reporting requirement.

But the most prominent among these was restricting its reach to K-12 sports, which states govern, and exempting college sports, which would be subject to NCAA sanctions and the loss of revenue from tournaments and other college sports contests held within the state.

Mrs. Noem has responded with two executive orders — one that says South Dakota students in K-12 must compete against people of their own gender and another that says colleges in the state should adopt the same policy. Thus, her commitment to the legislation can’t be questioned, nor can her commitment to getting this done in a way that doesn’t involve dozens of lawsuits and millions of dollars of claims paid to litigious athletes.

Mrs. Noem had been accused of selling out to the Chamber of Commerce and being cowardly in the face of the NCAA, even though South Dakota has worked hard to attract college sports events to its arena in Sioux Falls. The arena, known as the Sanford Pentagon, has been the host of the NCAA Men’s Division II basketball tournament since 2013, and also holds women’s basketball and volleyball championships. Last November, it attracted a pre-season major college tournament that normally is held in the Bahamas.

These tournaments generate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for the state, and preserving them is not a small deal. And Mrs. Noem, who called the original legislation “a trial lawyer’s dream,” is not chickening out of the fight with the NCAA. With the help of football great Hershel Walker and golfer Nancy Lopez, among others, she has created a group called DefendTitleIXNow.com to push for legislation prohibiting biological males from playing in girls’ sports in other states.

It’s easy to isolate one state for punishment— as the NCAA did to North Carolina until it finally repealed its Bathroom Bill in 2017, the governor has reasoned. It’s much tougher if 20-30 states had such laws.

What Mrs. Noem is doing is striking a blow for fairness to girls in sports and postponing the battle at the college level until a day she is better prepared to win it. She also is preserving the state’s options until better ideas come along.

• Brian McNicoll, a freelance writer basedin Alexandria, Va., is a former senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

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