A youth basketball coach in Virginia is threatening a lawsuit after he says his team of 11-and-under players was disqualified from a national tournament because they have a girl on the team.
Joe Mallory, the head coach of the Charlottesville Cavaliers, says he was told Saturday, moments after a win that advanced the team to the semifinals, that his team was disqualified from the National Travel Basketball Association’s National Championship tournament.
The reason for the disqualification, both Mallory and the NTBA agree, is that Mallory’s team in the boys' tournament gave playing time to a girl, a 10-year-old named Kymora Johnson.
The NTBA hosts both a girls’ and a boys’ National Championship tournament and does not allow mixed-gender teams to compete at the national level.
Mallory claims the gender eligibility requirements are not clear on the NTBA’s website and says that no one from the NTBA communicated to him before the tournament that Kymora would not be allowed to play.
“I said, ‘You checked us in. We went through the whole process,’” Mallory told ABC News he said to NTBA president John Whitley upon learning of his team’s disqualification. “They already knew that she was a female from the check-in.”
“They go through an interview process with the staff of the NTBA and they ask them questions,” he added. “She had on a pink bow and had her hair down. They knew she was a girl.”
Whitley contends that Mallory was told by NTBA officials when the team checked in for the tournament that Kymora, as well as another 6-year-old girl on the team, would not be allowed to play in tournament games.
He says NTBA officials allowed Kymora to join the team at tournament games because she had traveled to the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, tournament. The NTBA had to disqualify the Cavaliers, according to Whitley, after Kymora got playing time in two separate games.
“The head coach was notified that girls cannot play on a boys team for our National Championship,” Whitley told ABC News in a statement. "He acknowledged this and said no problem to us. This was done during the team check-in process before any games were played. It is also posted on our website.”
The NTBA’s gender-specific team requirement currently is listed on the association's website, under the “Other Info” tab and then “Other Rules/Regulations" and "Roster Rules."
Mallory contends that if it is the NTBA’s rule for players, it should be listed under the “Eligibility Info” tab of the website and made clearer to players and coaches.
“We have 11 other kids on the team that felt like they got robbed,” said Mallory, who added that his request to allow the team to continue in the tournament without Kymora was also denied.
“Kymora only played about five minutes total in all five games and only scored three points,” he said. “Yes, it’s a girl issue but it’s a team. We’re a family. It’s not just one person that made that team.”
The co-founder of the Charlottesville Cavaliers league that oversees Mallory's team told ABC News there are other all-girl teams that Kymora could have played on in the Charlottesville area, but added that which team you play for often depends on family and friend connections.
Kymora's only other female teammate, the 6-year-old girl, for example, has an older brother on the same Cavaliers' team.
“In my opinion, it was just a huge confluence of events and a huge miscommunication,” the league's co-founder, Waki Wynn, told ABC News. "We don’t feel as if NTBA did anything inappropriate or anything malicious to us and, at the same time, we don’t feel like our coach was trying to cheat or skirt the rules."
Mallory told ABC News he is still pursuing legal options against the NTBA, but declined to identify his attorney.
Kymora's mother, Jessica Thomas-Johnson, told ABC News that her daughter started playing basketball at the age of three and joined the Cavaliers because she "wanted to compete" by the ages of five and six and that was the only team available at the time.
"Just in the last year or so have other options with girls' teams become available," Thomas-Johnson said. "But the Cavaliers are her home and this is more than just a team. This is a family."
As for why the team is going public with their disappointment with the NTBA, Thomas-Johnson says the decision the association made was not fair to the team.
"The point is just getting it out there so people can offer support to this team and these coaches and these families that all invested at least eight months, or years, of their lives in getting to this big, season-ending tournament," she said. "And to have left so unfulfilled and for such an unjust reason, I think that there’s definitely some responsibility on their [NTBA] end that I feel like they’re now failing to accept."