Ken Greenwood emphasized the word "girls" when he told his female softball team why they were not going to play in yesterday's Baltimore County Girls Softball Tournament.
Then he watched as four players on the opposing team -- four boys -- took the field.
"I am not going to risk my girls getting hurt by playing a team with boys on it," said Mr. Greenwood, manager of the Parkville girls' softball team who chose to forfeit the game against Turners Station in protest. "This is a girls' softball league, not coed."
But the coaches and players from Turners Station -- the only black team in the tournament -- felt the complaint had more to do with race than gender.
"I've carried these boys on the team all year long, and they haven't hurt anyone," said Tanya Evans, team manager. "If it wasn't for the fact that we are a black team, this would not be a problem."
The controversy began Saturday when the Lutherville-Timonium girls' team forfeited rather than play a team that included boys. Word of Turners Station's composition spread, and the other two teams in the tournament -- Parkville and Ca
tonsville -- made identical decisions.
"We're not sending our girls to pitch against male batters when they're only 40 feet away on the pitcher's mound," said Catonsville coach Ray Chavis, explaining why his team will not show up for the tournament final against Turners Station tomorrow.
"We figured we entered a girls' softball league, and that's what we wanted to play," said Mr. Chavis.
Mr. Greenwood staged his protest on Pikesville's Bedford Elementary School playing field by sending only one Parkville batter to the plate in the first inning. Debbie Curran looked at a perfect strike by Turners Stations' LaKeia Seward, then stepped out of the batter's box and -- with her teammates -- out of the game.
Once the protest was lodged, the Parkville girls joined Catonsville and Lutherville-Timonium in a three-team elimination scrimmage at another diamond where they excluded Turners Station.
"We are going to play other girls' softball teams," said Mr. Greenwood. "They [Turners Station] are playing coed, and that's not what we signed up to do."
But Turners' Ms. Evans said she felt justified in bringing the boys into the games since her area has no league for 13- and 14-year-old boys and, she said, the boys sincerely want to play.
"They are upset that they have to come out here and nobody will play them," said Ms. Evans, who has coached the team since its players were in the 9-to-12 league. "The problem here is that the adults get all worked up and the kids suffer."
The tournament began with 12 teams -- three teams in each of four county geographic sections. To reach the weekend's final foursome competition, Turners Station had to play other teams in southern Baltimore County -- none of which, Ms. Evans said, filed a complaint about her male athletes.
"They'd get a little upset [when Turners Station won], but nobody wanted to take it to league officials," she said.
Bob Newton, commissioner of Parkville Recreation Center's girls' softball program, complained that county recreation officials were negligent in telling the teams about the coed entry, putting heavy pressures -- socially and financially -- on the forfeiting team.
"The fact that the information wasn't passed on effectively is disturbing. If we would have known, we could have decided how to handle it," said Mr. Newton. "Between all the fees we had to pay to get into the league, we are out $200."
Registered teams were required to pay $100 for a forfeit fee, $65 for trophies, $20 to protest and $16 for umpire fees.
County rules state that boys and girls may play on the same team "as long as no apparent safety problems exist."
In a two-page typewritten protest, Lutherville-Timonium manager James Clerkin contended that "there is an inherent safety problem, particularly after the onset of puberty" in boys playing against girls, but also noted that "no county representative has been able to explain the intent of the 'safety problem' phrasing."
"How can you officiate a tournament with rules you don't understand?" Mr. Clerkin wrote.
Chris Bratton, director of the tournament, believed the Turners Station team was entitled to have boys on the field.
"In this case, Turners Station did nothing wrong. Safety considerations are not a factor in this tournament," said Mr. Bratton. "The team played their area teams and won, which makes them eligible for this tournament."
Juanita Jackson, a coach for Turners Station, said she was troubled that the county had made rules allowing boys to play on girls' teams and that "in the first year we ever used it, we get all this. I told the children to get used to it because that is what they will get because of the color of their skin."
Mr. Greenwood said the rule needs to be changed so that 10 boys of any color couldn't get together and sign up as a girls' softball team.
"We've played black teams before; that's not even an issue," said Mr. Greenwood. "But the rule about boys playing on girls' teams needs to be evaluated."
Ms. Jackson felt there was no danger posed by her team having boys in the game.
"One lady told me she didn't want her daughter to be [hit with a line drive ]. I told her we had girls on our team that could do that. I mean, you have to know how to play if you are on a softball team. Either put up your glove or duck."
The players had mixed views about playing a coed team. Jill Thomas, a Parkville player, said it would be different if a female were on an all-male team.
"If a girl is playing on a guys' team, chances are she's not going to be that good or be that dangerous," said Jill, 13. "A boy on a girls' team may be stronger than the girls."
Charles Samuel, a Turners Station player, said the way he plays, he couldn't hurt the girls.
"I play 100 percent on this team, but it's not the same 100 percent I'd play if it were against guys," said Charles, 14. "Females are delicate, and I wouldn't want to hurt any one of them."
But Jill's teammate, Dani Lazowski, couldn't understand why boys would want to play against her team.
"Why would a boy want to play on a girls' team?" said Dani, 13. "I mean, wouldn't he feel like a wimp?"
Ms. Evans said her boys "have been through all of that."
"The guys have people calling them 'sissy' and 'girls,' but they still come out to play," she said.
Mandy Gorsuch of Parkville said she doesn't mind playing against boys. "We've played fast-pitch softball against 16- and 17-year-old girls," said Mandy, who will retire from the team this year at 14. "I don't see the difference."
Lindsey Foster, who plays third base for Lutherville-Timonium, saw a big difference.
"If they looked like they were my age, maybe I wouldn't mind playing them," said Lindsey, 13 years old and about 5 feet tall. "But they are so much bigger than us."
Turners' tallest player, Mario Smith, who just turned 14, is roughly 5 feet 9 inches tall.
"If I could ensure the safety of my girls, I'd send them out there to play because that's how good I think they are. But the main thing is safety," said Mr. Greenwood, whose daughter, Katie, plays on the team. "I'm not going to send my daughter and my team up against 14-year-old boys."
Turners' player LaToria Smith said the other coaches don't have confidence that their teams are as good as hers, and teammate Charles Samuel agreed.
"If all the boys looked real scrubby, there wouldn't be a problem," he said. "We have never hurt any of the girls we played."