State Board of Regents eyes gender-neutral sports



The state Board of Regents wants to see more co-ed interscholastic sports teams.

On Monday, the Regents started the comment process for a new regulation that will end the state’s current fitness test requirements for mixed competition. There will be a 60-day public comment period, at which the Regents expect to approve the change in time for this fall’s high school sports seasons in September.

“The department is committed to providing athletes of all genders equal opportunities to play and participate in extra class athletic opportunities as athletics are a vital part of any student’s education,” said Angelique Johnson-Dingle, deputy state commissioner of P-12 instructional support. “This includes promoting equality between separate male and female athletic programs and encouraging mixed gender teams. The department believes this is an important step in ensuring equality. “

If a school does not provide opportunity for students of different genders to participate on separate teams, schools must permit a student of a different gender to participate in however a team is selected. The expectations for personal and social responsibility, health, physical fitness, and sport-specific skill development and knowledge of the game requirements must be the same for students of all genders. The proposed amendment requires that criteria for determining whether students will be selected to participate on the team shall be the same for all students who wish to participate, regardless of student-identified gender. Those criteria will be required to be publicly posted on the school website. If there is no selection process employed for participation in a particular sport, all students must be permitted to participate equally, regardless of self-identified gender.

“We’re clear in the amendments that it’s student-identified gender,” Johnson-Dingle said. “We worked very hard to be very clear in that language and to be as inclusive as possible. So that is what we’ve done with the language throughout.”

The change is being spurred by the case of Shira Mandelzis, a 2023 graduate of Riverdale High School in the Bronx who argues the old physical tests she had to pass before playing high school football required her to do more to prove her ability to play contact sports than boys who had never played football and who were similar in physical stature. Mandelzis had to do a mile run, do the required number of pull-ups and push-ups and be able to touch her toes. Then, she had to pass the Tanner Test, which evaluates young athletes’ level of bone growth, hormonal changes and muscle development that their body has gone through or still needs to go through. The state Education Department recommends eliminating use of the Tanner scale because it is intrusive and demeaning, according to the staff memo on the new regulations.

“For male athletes, no matter their size, skill level or physical maturity, all they had to do to play was show up,” Mandelzis said during Monday’s meeting. “But because of my gender I had to do fitness tests including running a mile, touching my toes, pushups and pullups – and these were exercises nobody else had to do on the team and they had nothing to do with my position as a wide receiver. My school also required me to have a physical and sexual maturity test to join the team, which was a long and uncomfortable process, to say the least. Once I cleared those tests I would need a panel of school faculty to decide if I was worthy to join the team.”

Instead of the Tanner scale, the Education Department recommends that schools use other ways to determine if an athlete is likely to be injured during contact sports, including age, kinematics/biomechanics, body composition, previous injury; grade of competition; training load (hours per week); position played; competition or practice; strength; player experience; whether the sport includes checking, tackling or body contact; and environmental factors.

There was little discussion of the new regulations by Regents on Monday, though Regent Roger Tilles asked about boys playing sports that typically are open only to girls, specifically field hockey, which is popular in Tilles’ district. Johnson-Dingle said schools will be required to provide a level playing field for those sports.

“I concur with the idea that where there is no boys team, like in field hockey, that a boy would be able to go into the girls field hockey if there’s only one team,” Tilles said. “I think it’s positive. Unfortunately in gym classes where kids are exposed to different sports, virtually no coach that I know puts boys in field hockey and they might benefit from that. I’m hoping this will expand the scope of what kids get exposed to as well.”

Beginning July 1, 2025, the proposed amendment clarifies the Athletic Placement Process for those districts that choose to allow students in seventh and eighth grades to play up to high school level teams or students in ninth through 12th grades to move down to play at the modified level.


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