Girl on the Gridiron HOWARD COUNTY


Angela Wise should savor her victory on the football field. She hasn't scored any touchdowns yet, but the 15-year-old Howard High junior was given her chance to try out this week for the school's traditionally all-boys football varsity.

She did so after what she described as coach John Quinn's attempt to stop her from trying out because she is female. She convinced the American Civil Liberties Union of her position, but not school officials, who insist that the only reason she was barred from tryouts is that she failed to submit a doctor's signed statement that she is physically fit.

Whatever the circumstances, Ms. Wise hit the field on Monday and deservedly so. Gender should never keep a student from competing in intermural activities.

Having said that, it must also be said that Angela ought to meet the same qualifications as her male counterparts. Her size -- 5-foot, 6-inches and 130 pounds -- as well as an inauspicious start on the practice field on Monday suggests she faces huge hurdles. But the rules of the game, which measure skill as well as stamina, are there not only to assure the best team possible, but also to protect the unprepared from harm.

There is ample evidence close to home that makes concern for Angela's safety well justified. In 1989, Tawana Hammond, then a Carroll County high schooler almost exactly Angela's size, had her pancreas and spleen ruptured while practicing with male teammates. Her parents sued the school system for $1.25 million, contending that officials failed to adequately explain the potential dangers. Her case was thrown out in Circuit Court last summer.

Alarmingly, some male players at Howard High have expressed a longing for Angela to don pads so that they can "show her what football is about." It is difficult to tell whether those players are anxious to single her out because she is female or are expressing the normal bravado that characterizes this pugilistic sport. We hope it is the latter.

Football is, indeed, a rough and often dangerous game. For some, it's a symbol of an overly competitive and aggressive society. For others, it's prime entertainment. It is not unthinkable that a young woman would want to give it a try. And she should have the chance to succeed -- or fail -- on her merits as any male classmate.

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