School’s ‘official’ policy on female refs at issue

St. Mary’s Academy under fire for banning woman from officiating basketball game last weekend

By Rick DeanThe Capital-JournalPublished Sunday, February 10, 2008Darin Putthoff used to consider St. Mary’s Academy a good place to officiate a high school basketball game. As director of basketball operations for the Topeka Officials Association, he once did whatever he could to secure game officials for the private school in Pottawatomie County.

But Putthoff sensed a different mood when he walked on the court Feb. 2 with his partner, second-year referee Michelle Campbell.


St. Mary’s is owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X, a priestly society founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre that opposes changes made by the Roman Catholic Church during the 1960s. According to the school’s Web site, more than 750 students (kindergarten through 12th grade) attended St. Mary’s as of September 2003.

With a stated goal of forming “good Catholics and good citizens in such a manner that the whole person may be submitted to the reign of Jesus Christ in the spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical spheres,” St. Mary’s does not accept government or corporate funding because it wishes “to remain completely free from any interference in the Catholic structure of our programs.”

http://www.smac.edu, The Asssociated Press

As soon as we walked through the door (during pregame warmup) we started getting stares and the cold shoulder,” he said. “I thought that was odd, because usually they’re very hospitable there. It’s actually a pretty good place to work.”

The reason for the climate change quickly became obvious to both referees when, just 10 minutes before tipoff, a clearly embarrassed school administrator asked that Campbell not work the game.

He told us women were not allowed to referee there,” said Putthoff, who was asked to work with two male officials from the just-completed junior varsity game.

I was shocked, immediately caught off guard. I said, ‘If Michelle has to leave, I’m leaving with her,’ and we all walked. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never coming back.”

The exact nature of the St. Mary’s Academy policy, and the rationale behind it, remains unclear. Repeated requests for an explanation were directed to school principal Father Vincent Griego, who didn’t respond to interview requests.

As of Friday afternoon, Griego also hadn’t responded to inquiries made by the Kansas State High School Activities Association, which could revoke the academy’s “approved school” status that allows it to compete against KSHSAA member schools, something it does only on a limited basis.

St. Mary’s Academy — unlike its public school counterpart, St. Marys High School — isn’t a KSHSAA member school, noted executive director Gary Musselman. Rather, it is on the association’s approved school list, meaning KSHSAA members are allowed to play the Crusaders even though the school doesn’t meet the KSHSAA’s member accreditation standards. Association members are allowed to compete only against schools that are members of a recognized state association or are on an approved list.

Musselman said the KSHSAA is attempting to learn more about the St. Mary’s Academy policy toward female referees.

Our officials deserve the support of our organization, and the TOA deserves the dignity of a response,” Musselman said of concerns voiced by Potthoff. “We want to hear from the school about their policy and their rationale to see if it’s consistent with the standards we expect from our approved schools.

“We want to be fair and give them the chance to present their side of the story.”

St. Mary’s Academy, according to its Web site, is owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X, an international society of traditional Roman Catholic priests. The society generally disdains the modern reforms to Catholic teachings and rites made by the Second Vatican Council.

Putthoff plans to ask his TOA board whether to continue providing registered officials for Crusader games. Based on his experience of last week, his inclination is to ask the TOA to suspend its association with the school.

I’d be shocked if they remain an approved school,” Putthoff said.

Campbell, one of five female TOA members currently working high school basketball throughout northeast Kansas, said if she had known of the St. Mary’s Academy policy, she wouldn’t have accepted the officiating assignment that precipitated the controversy.

“This probably would have come up sooner or later, but I just happened to be the one who got involved,” she said. “I was dumbfounded when I learned of it.

“But I’ve gotten overwhelming support from other officials, and that’s helped. Right now I’m trusting that the association will handle it in an appropriate manner. All the facts have yet to be gathered.”

A former player at K-State under coach Judy Akers in the mid 1970s, Campbell recently retired from a 20-year law enforcement career in Albuquerque, N.M., where she worked her way up from street patrol to a position in the department’s homicide unit. A native of Westmoreland, she moved to Ozawkie after retirement and began officiating after learning of an officials shortage.

She’s a qualified official who’s paid her dues and deserves to work,” Putthoff said. “She’s elevated her work to the point that she’s one of the better officials in northeast Kansas. I’d work with her on any level of varsity ball, any time.

But this had nothing to do with whether she was qualified. This was a sad day for the kids, and for Kansas basketball. We will always keep in mind the best interests of the kids we serve, but we also have to defend our members.”

This isn’t the first time St. Mary’s Academy has confronted such controversy. In 2004, the Catholic school refused to play an eight-man football game against White City because one of the players on White City’s roster was a girl.

St. Mary’s Academy forfeited the game, and White City was awarded a 2-0 victory.

Rick Dean can be reached at rick.dean@cjonline.com. 


2 responses to this post.

  1. It’s been big news around here for a few weeks. I’ve been following the fall out in the KC Star’s editorial letters. Everyone thinks it is ridiculous. I agree. I read that they have women teachers at the school; how is that different?


  2. Somehow I missed this story. My parents filled me in when they were in town this weekend. I also think it’s strange, Kelly, that they let women teach the male students. I would think they would let women referee a game before they let women teach their male students. Strange. When I worked at the library in Manhattan some of the St. Mary’s families would frequent the library. They always had a slew of kids (not that that’s bad), and the women often looked rather downtrodden. How could they not be? They are obviously second-class citizens.


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