Cece Lucia's kicking debut was the stuff of a Disney script.
Growing up a soccer player, she'd spent her younger years booting backyard field goals with her brother and neighbors. Now an eighth-grader at St. Simon Middle School, Lucia worked up the courage to inquire about trying out for the football team.
With the team not making a kick yet this season, the answer was a no-brainer for the team for her head coach -- come on out. In the following days, Lucia dazzled at practice. Made kicks from all over the field, showing her abilities well enough to be tabbed to dress for the team's game this past Sunday.
"There's no question she's got a leg. She could kick for a number of varsity high school programs in the area right now," said family friend and former college kicker Eric Malm, who grew up kicking with Lucia in their Hamilton County neighborhood.
Two-for-two, with plenty of distance. Better than the debut of most high-school, college, and even pro kickers. Her coaching staff and male teammates were more than supportive. After the game, Lucia led the post-game prayer and chant. Everything happened the way it's supposed to happen, the kind of the scene that gives one hope for our society. Almost too good to be true.
Because, well, it was.
Lucia's coach received a call sometime after the game. If she played again, her team would be forced to forfeit. She had been ruled ineligible to play by the Indianapolis CYO, simply because of her gender.
Corey Lucia, Cece's brother and a senior at IU, characterized the family as a "traditional" thinking one and isn't attempting to make their daughter into an example or impinge on a sport that is, generally, played by males at all other positions. The issue at hand is simple -- his sister just enjoys kicking field goals, and is rather good at it.
"She's devastated. All of her teammates and coaches have been so supportive. But then to have someone tell her she can't play, not because of her ability, but because of her gender -- that's devastating."
"She'd love the opportunity to play again, if offered, but she's not the type of person that wants to make an issue of it."
Friends and family have taken to twitter on her behalf.
But here's the thing -- Cece Lucia isn't a trailblazer. She shouldn't have to be. Her friends and family should have to take to twitter to fight for this sort of thing. Because it's already happened at every other level of football.
In past years, I've spent my friday nights calling high school football games on radio in rural parts of the state. I saw female kickers so often at small rural high schools throughout this state that it was no longer a thing to me. Katie Hnida was a big deal 11 years ago. There were female kickers that had come before her. There have been more in the years after. With the obivous exception of Hnida's time at Colorado (who had no issues at New Mexico), there have been zero issues. Even the noted women's-rights advocates on Park Avenue gave a woman an opportunity to make an NFL roster.
There's even precedent in other archdiocese to let girls play CYO football. Last year, the Philadelphia CYO finally allowed an 11-year-old girl to play DEFENSIVE END after a two-year battle that left the threat of a lawsuit looming -- which, in reality, is a much different topic then letting a girl play a non-contact position. With things like this in the news, I'm not sure I would allow my future son to play a heavy-contact position in football. Let alone my daughter.
The Indianapolis CYO has been down that road before. 12-year-old Lindsay Overstreet wanted to play a contact position for Our Lady of Greenwood in 2010. Per this article by WTHR's Jennie Runevitch, Overstreet had the support of parents, teammates, and coaches. Despite all that, Overstreet's request was denied like that of many others. What was the CYO's rationale behind this? From the WTHR article:
"It's believed that if boys or girls in those sports were involved, it would just change the climate in which the sport is played," CYO executive director Edward Tinder said. "Co-ed involvement would alter the integrity of the sport, it's believed."
Per this quote, The Indianapolis CYO claims it doesn't make this policy in the spirit of player safety. It's stating that allowing women on the football field will inherently affect the integrity of sport. That's not just downright wrong, but it's also incredibly insulting from a organization that prides itself on providing a positive experience for the community's youth.
"It's hard to see a faith-based reason in this," says the elder Lucia.
Regardless of the flawed reasoning , the allowance of girls to play regular positions in CYO football is a different debate. That thought should have a basis in player safety, and it is certainly reasonable to have reservations about young girls -- which are smaller and more petite by nature -- playing a game where full-grown men are experiencing long-term health repercussions as a result of their involvement.
So, what's the reason a girl can't come in and kick field-goals in middle school CYO football? She'll affect the integrity of the game. She couldn't simply wear a marker designating her a no-contact player? Or assess heavy penalties for making contact with her? Or have her strictly kick field goals, like has been done before at highest levels of football, without incident? That would disrupt the integrity of the game.
Unfortunately for the Lucia family, there's probably little legal recourse here. The Indianapolis CYO would have to be receiving federal funding or using state or federally owned facilities for Title IX laws to apply, litigation would be expensive, and it could be years before the case would be resolved.
We've reached out to the Indianapolis CYO for comment. This story will be updated.
6:50 PM ET UPDATE
The Indianapolis CYO still hasn't responded to our request for comment. Twitter has.
"Hey, you're a girl, you can't play football" is not really happening in 2014, is it? http://t.co/1NzuetU5vb— Katie Hnida (@KatieHnida) September 30, 2014
Unbelievable situation.. http://t.co/o1ipLFmcY6— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) September 30, 2014
Your move, CYO.
10:15 PM ET UPDATE
Given the response and a number of other media inquiries, the Lucia family has released a brief statement:
"Cece just loves football and simply wants to kick field goals. We hope this incident can be resolved quickly."