NC bill would require high school sports teams to be single sex or co-ed

By Theresa Opeka

Raleigh, NC – A North Carolina Senate bill was introduced Thursday that would prevent biologically female high school athletes from being forced to compete against biological males in sports designated for females. Under the bill, high school transgender athletes would be required to compete on either co-ed teams, or on teams designated for their biological sex.

photo by Gene Galin

In a press conference Thursday the bill sponsors for S.B. 631, Fairness in Women’s Sports Act were joined by Hall of Fame female coaches to lend their support.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, one of the bill sponsors, said the bill is intended to establish fair standards for women’s sports. “Forcing girls to play against biological males is denying female athletes’ fair competition and their (men’s) physical advantages that cannot be ignored,” she said. “Title IX was created specifically to provide fairness for women in sports.”

The bill requires that each team is designated by the biological sex of the team participants as either female, women, or girls, male, men, or boys, and coed or mixed. Second, athletic teams or sports designated for women shall not be open to male students. Finally, teams or sports for men would not be open to women unless there is no comparable female team for a particular sport and the sport is not a contact sport.

Krawiec said 70% of North Carolinians oppose biological males competing against women.

Sen. Vicki Sawyer, R- Mecklenburg, who grew up playing athletics, said the sports she played are now under attack. But, she said, this bill is not against anybody but is for the health and safety of women, mentioning an incident that occurred at Hiwassee Dam High School, Cherokee County last fall. 

A Hiwassee Dam girls’ volleyball player reportedly suffered head and neck injuries from a spike from a 6-foot Highlands transgender athlete.

“She was slammed to the floor when a volleyball hit her neck, and she went to the hospital,” Sawyer said.

“First of all, I support transgender athletes, but to ensure that female athletes have access to fair and safe competition, trans girls and trans women at any age should not be eligible to compete head-to-head against females,” said Sylvia Hatch, head coach of the women’s basketball team at UNC Chapel Hill for over 30 years. She spoke in support of the bill.

Hatch also won an NCC championship in 1994 and was an assistant coach of the USA 1988 women’s basketball team that won an Olympic gold medal. She has been inducted into seven athletic halls of fame, including the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and was National Coach of the Year for several years. She said separate sports categories facilitate inclusion.

“Competitive sport is one of the few places in our society where sex differences matter,” she said. “Those differences mean greater strength, size, speed, and muscle mass. Men’s larger hearts, lungs, hands, feet, and skulls, women’s greater body fat, and men’s difference in the distribution of their body fat and lean muscle mass results in performance advantages for men in almost every sport.”

Hatch said without the two sex categories, the world would have never known about or celebrated the greatest female athletes of all time, including Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Mary Lou Renton, or Peggy Fleming.

“All would have been defeated and overshadowed by countless male players and lost in history,” she said. “Just recently in 2022, the World Aquatics which is the governing body for swimming and diving and other water sports acknowledged the differences between women and men with a rule change that excludes people who have experienced male puberty from women’s events in 2023. Just a few weeks ago, World Athletics, the governing body for track and field and all running events followed suit, and this is on the Olympic level.”

Hatch said the purpose of Title IX, which was created in 1972, was to make sports fair and equal, and having females compete against transgender females is “not fair and equal.”

She also pointed out that a transgender female could also take away a scholarship from a biological female due to their biological strength.

Sherry Norris, who coached basketball, volleyball, and softball at Chapel Hill High School and was inducted into several halls of fame and recognized as an Associated Press Coach of the Year, who also spoke in favor of the bill, said she dedicated her entire career promoting sports for girls and while she believes that people have the right to make their own choices about their bodies when it starts to impact others, a line needs to be drawn.

 “Transgender participation in middle school and high school sports should be denied,” she said. “It is not an equal playing field. The difference in strength and the size of males when compared to females creates a lot of advantages, and it is a safety issue that needs to be addressed.”

Norris taught elementary physical education for 37 years, and President’s Council Fitness tests were administered.  The tests showed a higher strength difference for boys versus girls, again bringing up the example of what happened in Cherokee County.

She said the biological female suffered a concussion and is still suffering the long-term effects of that concussion with different symptoms and has neurological damage. After the injury, the school board 5 to 1 that in the future when Hiwassee was to play Highlands high school, they would forfeit games for the safety of the athletes.

“My problem with that is, yes, we should be concerned about their safety, but let’s think about the implications,” she said, “What does that mean for other girls on the team and the other players? They took a stand, and it was the correct stand to protect them, but at the same time, it eliminates them from being able to possibly be conference champions to play in a state playoff all because they are allowing a male to play on a girls’ team, and it should not happen.”

Norris said they need to stay true to the Title IX legislation and not set female athletics back 50 years.

The House also sponsored similar legislation with H.B. 574.

Sawyer said they just want to make sure that something like Cherokee County doesn’t happen again in the future.

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to intervene in a case challenging West Virginia’s law banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports teams at school.  An earlier decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals prevents the state’s ban from being enforced while a lower court considers the case.

“Nothing about today’s procedural ruling will deter our efforts to protect girls and young women,” Sawyer said in a statement to Carolina Journal.