It’s true, there are still good people in this world, and some of them can be found on a fifth grade coed basketball team in Clark, New Jersey.
The St. John’s basketball team is made up of 11 fifth graders, nine of which are boys, and two are girls. This past Friday, the 11 kids had to make a big decision. If they chose to include the two girls on the team, they would effectively forfeit the rest of their season. If the boys kicked the girls off, they could continue to play.
The call was easy for the St. John’s team: let the girls play.
“One parent told me it’s my decision (whether the girls play), but I said no way, I’m not making this decision for 11 10-year-olds,” St. John’s coach Rob Martel told NJ.com.
“Is your decision to play the game without the two young ladies on the team, or do you want to stay as a team as you have all year?” parent Matthew Dohn said. “Show of hands for play as a team?”
Well, Martel didn’t have to make the decision after all, as the kids responded to Dohn with a resounding we play together or not at all.
Two weeks before Dohn had to ask the question, the league’s director told the St. John’s team they shouldn’t have been coed at all, and that for the last two games of the year, the girls couldn’t play. On top of that, the team’s record was wiped clean because the girls were considered “illegal” players.
But the director’s notice only came after a game against St. Theresa’s, when a complaint was made.
This led to the archdiocese of Newark, Jim Goodness, pointing out the rules of the league dictate teams should be all boys or all girls, and that St. John’s athletic director, Jack Cajuste, admitted he made a mistake.
Despite this, the decision was unanimous and all eleven kids agreed we play together or not at all. When the decision was made, Keisha Martel, an assistant coach and mother of one of the girls, told the kids about the consequences once more, but that didn’t make a difference:
“It doesn’t matter,” one boy replied and others echoed, before the team began to chant, “Unity!”
“Pride. Just pure pride,” parent Denise Laskody told reporters while crying. “These kids are doing the right thing. We don’t have to tell them what to do. They just know. It’s amazing.”
After all 11 agreed to play together, the referees wouldn’t go onto the court. And the opponent, St. Bart’s, walked out of the gym.
Ultimately, the players decided the rules didn’t matter; what mattered is that they all win or lose together:
“It has a big impact on me because it shows that they care. I’m part of them just as they’re part of me and they don’t want to break that bond just like I don’t want to break that bond,” one of the two girls Kayla Martel said. “I think the rules are ridiculous.”
Naturally, their parents around proud of the decision they made and their coach is thrilled:
“They’re kids and all they wanted to do was play,” said Rob Martel. “This is adults that couldn’t figure out how to let the kids play two more games. This isn’t the WNBA or NBA. … They’re just trying to get better, and I think they got better today.”