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No Skirting This: Chelmsford Girls Scored

February 10, 2019 GMT

CHELMSFORD -- Hailey Graybeal doesn’t like skirts.

“You would never catch me wearing a skirt,” the McCarthy Middle School sixth-grader said.

In fact, the last time her mother, Heather Slieff, tried to get her to wear one was in first grade.

Hailey, 12, is an athletic girl more comfortable in shorts. So when she found out she might have to wear a skirt for Chelmsford Youth Lacrosse this year, she didn’t take too well to the news.

“I talked to my friends that play lacrosse, and they said they would quit, and I would quit, too,” said Hailey, who plays other sports, including hockey and football. “I’m not saying all girls don’t like skirts, I’m saying we should have the choice.”

The previous two years she’s played for the Chelmsford Youth Lacrosse Association, the uniform was shorts and a loose tank top. About to enter her third season playing with CYLA, Hailey and her parents learned the board was going to institute a different uniform for the upper-tier players: the town teams would still wear shorts, but the select, competitive teams would have to wear skirts.

Hailey said she felt a skirt would interfere with her ability to play, and make the sport less fun.

“The skirts in lacrosse have been outdated for years and the only reason we can find for this to occur is due to tradition,” said her father, Mike Graybeal, noting he felt it was “sexist” and “taking a step backwards in the equality of gender.”

Hailey spoke with her teacher, Mary Martin, and asked for permission to start a petition asking CYLA to change its new uniform decision. Knowing the state recently passed a bill to strengthen civics education, Martin saw it as a perfect opportunity. She spoke with Principal Kurt McPhee, who allowed Hailey to distribute copies of the petition around the school and talk about it during the morning announcements.

In a very short time, the petition had garnered more than 300 signatures from McCarthy students across all grade levels.

Twins Amber and Grace King, 11, who both play lacrosse, said they worried about their sticks getting tangled in their skirts. Friend Emma Gubitose, 12, said she thought Hailey was “really brave” for taking a stand on the issue.

“Some of the girls are already uncomfortable with the short shorts,” said Hailey’s best friend, Tayla McLernon, 12. “They shouldn’t have to go another step and wear skirts.”

Bob Loeber, communications director for Chelmsford Youth Lacrosse, said it was never the organization’s intent to force any players to wear anything they felt uncomfortable in.

“We’re here to have the kids have a good experience,” he said. “We absolutely just want all the kids to be comfortable.”

Loeber said the CYLA board saw the new select team uniforms as a pathway to high school-level lacrosse -- where players do wear skirts -- and beyond. He said some of the older girls they spoke with were excited about that, and they assumed the sentiment was more widespread.

They were caught off guard when they learned about the petition, Loeber said. He said the skirts will be optional and the board will work with its vendor to get shorts that look the same. Girls who don’t like the shorter style will be free to order the longer boys’ shorts, Loeber said.

“We’re going to make sure that, whatever they want to wear, they can wear,” he said. “Whatever everyone wants to do, they can make their own choice.”

Loeber said he felt there was perhaps a misunderstanding about the board’s intentions with the uniform and acknowledged they could have communicated better with families. He said CYLA will form an official uniform policy so that it is clearer in the future.

“At the end of the day, as long as the kids are having fun playing lacrosse, it will work out,” Loeber said.

Hailey said she was happy and relieved Friday to learn her petition was successful and that she can remain skirt-free for the foreseeable future.

“I think it’s awesome, and I’m glad that the board listened to me and what I had to say,” she said.

Graybeal said he felt it was a good learning experience for his daughter, and that the girls can “be competitive and not be worried about what they’re wearing.”

Follow Alana Melanson on Twitter @alanamelanson.