Pilaro reacts to being reinstated

The decision to ban 13-year-old boy Keeling Pilaro from playing on the Southampton (N.Y.) girls' field hockey team has been overturned. Courtesy of The Southampton Press

Keeling Pilaro had heard all the arguments.

For more than two months, he listened to people debate whether he should be allowed to play field hockey for the Southampton (N.Y.) field hockey team, which is traditionally a girls' squad.

Lawyers, coaches, teammates, opponents, parents and the media all made their points, and Pilaro heard all of it. Some were supportive, some weren't. But as Tuesday's final appeal hearing came to a close, the 13-year-old wanted to make sure his voice was heard.

"After all the lawyers made their final statements, Keeling stood up," said his mother, Fairley. "It wasn't planned. But he said, 'Wait a minute, I have something to say.'"

Pilaro then made his case to the appeals committee. Raised in Ireland until he was 12, he grew to love field hockey, which is a boys' sport in that country. He loved playing with his new teammates at Southampton, and he didn't want to give it up now.

"I just wanted to put some pressure on them when they made their decision," said Pilaro. "I love to play, and it wouldn't be right to take that away. Since this was my final chance, I wanted to make sure they got my point. I spoke more than I did in all of [the previous hearings] combined.

"Through this whole thing, I thought all along that they would have to let me play."

Turns out, he was right. After hearing Pilaro make his statement, in which he talked about a 10-year-old girl who told him he was her role model, the appeals committee made their call. They reversed an earlier decision and ruled that he would be able to play on the varsity field hockey team next season.

"I was so excited," said Pilaro. "I'm going to get to play one more year, and that's all I wanted."

Pilaro held up remarkably well throughout the process. His story became a national talking point almost overnight, and not all eighth-graders are built to handle that kind of attention. But Pilaro seemed to thrive on having his struggle aired publicly.

"I'm so proud of him for the way he handled the entire thing," said his mother. "He was respectful, but he never got discouraged."

Pilaro stayed positive from the beginning and never wavered. He said he never doubted his case because he didn't believe that anyone would bar him from playing a sport just because he's a boy.

Now that Pilaro has earned the right to play again, he hopes that his story makes a positive impact on other kids.

"Mine was a unique situation," he said, "but the message is that you should always try. Don't give up. I think I set a good example for fighting and not giving up."