'Pitch' this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix

Big baseball fan that I am, I was drawn to last week's premiere of "Pitch."

Fox's new series features a fictional pitcher named Ginny Baker (played by Kylie Bunbury), who becomes the first woman to play in the major leagues.

I'm not a TV critic, but I really enjoyed the first episode — including the emotional twist at the end.

I'll admit that I didn't spot a potential religion angle — at the time.

But after reading a story included in today's Pew Research Center daily religion headlines, I'm wondering if there just might be one.

This is the headline, as presented by Pew, that caught my attention:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players for religious reasons

Hmmmmm. Interesting. As I clicked the link, I wondered: Would the Arizona Republic explain those religious reasons?

However, the first thing I noticed was that Pew had tweaked the headline a bit for its audience. I'll copy the actual headline on the Republic website below. Notice any missing words?:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players

Well played, Pew. Well played.

But what about the story itself? Will religion enter the mix? Eventually, yes.

Let's start with the lede:

The Foothills Academy College Prep boys soccer team played without its two female players the first time a team objected to the sisters' presence.
Foothills had driven an hour to play Our Lady of Sorrows, which said it wouldn't take the field because of the female players.
Foothills lost that game, its first of the season, in overtime.
This time, when Mesa's Faith Christian told the Scottsdale high school the same thing, citing religious beliefs, the male players had the sisters' back.
The players voted not to play unless midfielders Alyssa and Colette Hocking were allowed to play.
"Actually, it was the team's decision," Foothills coach Steven Rains said. "They would not play without their team. They felt the girls earned the right to be on the team. And they won't play without them."

Keep reading, and the Phoenix newspaper does a pretty good job of letting all sides have their say. 

For example, the Republic allows Faith Christian's top official to explain his school's position in his own words:

So, on Friday, Faith Christian forfeited the Canyon Athletic Association high school game.
"I know it appears to fly in the face of what everyone is wanting to promote today, and that is equality," said Dick Buckingham, administrative leader of Faith Christian. "It is based on a religious perspective that God created guys and girls differently. The difference physically, there is a strength advantage that men have over women. We want to teach our men that honor of ladies is just not in sports. We struggle how to teach that if we're allowing them to play against young ladies in a competitive game.
"We're the ones harmed because we're giving up a game. We think it's better to do that than give a mixed message."

But I do have a few nitpicks: First, I'd love more specific details about the schools involved. The story doesn't make clear if Foothills Academy College Prep is a public or private institution. With a bit of Googling, I figured out that it's a public charter school. Faith Christian's website describes it as a "non-denominational, parent-controlled school" that regards "the Bible as God's infallible Word."

The most awkward wording in the story concerns Our Lady of Sorrows, which the Republic says is "not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Phoenix" and "centers on Latin Mass and traditions of faith." So is it a Roman Catholic church or not? The school's website explains that it's "a traditional Catholic parish served by priests of the Society of Saint Pius X." That specificity would have been helpful in the story.

But back to the main issue of boys and girls playing on the same field: The Republic shows its slant up high when it uses the phrase "the male players had the sisters' back." That's opposed to wording the news to make heroes of the team that stuck to its religious beliefs despite having to forfeit the game. Of course, a better approach, from a journalistic point of view, would be simply to report the facts and not take either side. 

I'd also love to see a more in-depth treatment of the religious beliefs. Faith Christian, for example, says on its website that "The Scriptures are the 'spectacle' through which we view all of life." Does that school offer any Scriptures that speak to this particular situation?

For reporters on a national scale, could there be a peg here — perhaps tied to "Pitch" — on where believers across the spectrum stand on this issue of boys and girls playing on the same sports field? Would any major-league players of faith refuse to take the field if the real-life San Diego Padres started a Ginny Baker?

Inquiring minds want to know. And so does this baseball fan.

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