Female Ref Banned From Boys' Game

School objected to giving her authority over boys to call basketball game.

Feb. 18, 2008 — -- Just minutes before she was scheduled to referee a boy's varsity basketball game at St. Mary's Academy, Michelle Campbell was told she would not be allowed to work the game because she is a woman.

St. Mary's Academy, near Topeka, Kan., is a controversial religious school that follows older Roman Catholic laws, but many argue that religious beliefs does not give the school the right to discriminate.

"The policy of the school was that they indeed do not permit female officials to officiate the boys athletic contests at their school," said Gary Musselman, executive director of the Kansas State High School Athletics Association.

Campbell says she is "dumbfounded" over the Feb. 2 incident.

"When I put that shirt on, I don't see a gender. I'm an official," she told "Good Morning America" today in a live interview from Kansas with the Rev. Darin Putthoff, the director of basketball for the Topeka Officials Association, who was scheduled to officiate the game with Campbell.

This is not St. Mary's first gender controversy. In 2004, St. Mary's refused to play a boys football game with White City because it had a girl playing on the team. St. Mary's forfeited the game.

"GMA" reached out to St. Mary's for a comment, but was told that the principal, the Rev. Vincente Griego, was not available and would not make any statements.

Campbell, a retired police officer, says she has great respect for the rules, but the argument doesn't make sense to her.

"I'm just an official out there to enforce the rules of the game. … My responsibility is to make all the right calls and so that the athletes have a great game," she said.

Putthoff pointed out the hypocrisy, immediately asking the school, "why?"

"The response was about women having authority over men," Putthoff said. He then asked whether there were any female teachers who taught boys and what the difference was. "He said he 'didn't really know.'"

"I've officiated both boys and girls and there never seemed to be a problem," Campbell said.

Putthoff said that he thinks the St. Mary's administrator who made the decision didn't "have a full understanding about the policy, so the information he offered us that day was really wrong. … The authority over men was not really the issue; the issue was gender."

There will be a hearing March 11 to determine whether St. Mary's will no longer be allowed to compete with the more than 300 other schools in the Kansas State High School Activity Association because of this incident.

Campbell says that if the school changes its rules she would be happy to officiate at St. Mary's.

The Kansas association was not aware of St. Mary's policy against female referees. Campbell was a last-minute replacement for a male referee and may have come as a surprise to the hosts of the game.

St. Mary's Academy is not technically a Catholic school. It's owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X, which strictly adheres to Roman Catholic laws. The society's world leader, the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in the late 1980s.