PHOENIX — Instead of playing in a championship baseball game, Paige Sultzbach and her team won't even make it to the dugout.
A Phoenix school that was scheduled to play the 15-year-old Mesa girl and her male teammates forfeited the game rather than face a female player.
Our Lady of Sorrows bowed out of Thursday night's game against Mesa Preparatory Academy in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association championship. The game had been scheduled at Phoenix College.
Paige, who plays second base at Mesa Prep, had to sit out two previous games against Our Lady of Sorrows out of respect for its beliefs. But having her miss the championship was not an option for Mesa Prep.
Paige's mother, Pamela Sultzbach, told The Arizona Republic, which first reported the story, the team found out about the forfeit Wednesday.
"This is not a contact sport, it shouldn't be an issue," Pamela Sultzbach said. "It wasn't that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it's that (they believe) a girl's place is not on a field."
Officials at Our Lady of Sorrows declined comment. In a written statement Thursday, the school said the decision to forfeit was consistent with a policy prohibiting co-ed sports.
The statement also said the school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where "proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty."
Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s.
In junior high, Paige played softball and volleyball. Because Mesa Prep does not have a girls softball team, she tried out for the boys baseball team and received support from her coach and her fellow teammates.
Lisa Maatz, director of public policy at the American Association of University Women, said the situation is a clear example of why Title IX law, which enforces gender equality in education programs including sports, is needed.
"The very idea that such stereotypes are so strong, they'd actually forfeit a game simply because a girl was on the field. That's ridiculous," Maatz said. "Does she have cooties?"
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation, said the school's decision to forfeit doesn't aid its own students.
"In real life, these boys are going to be competing against the girls for jobs, for positions in graduate programs or in trade schools," Hogshead-Makar said. "In every other area of their life, they are going to be competing side by side."
Both schools play in the seven-team 1A division of the ACAA. Our Lady of Sorrows won the Western Division and Mesa Prep won the Eastern Division with an undefeated season.