Changing room an issue for female football player at Fitch

Groton — The sole female on the Robert E. Fitch Senior High School football team was getting changed in a closet used to store custodial supplies, an arrangement that was brought to the attention of school administrators after an incident at practice Monday.

The 11th-grader, who joined the team this year as a receiver, left the field upset, and administrators said they are investigating whatever it was that might have made her feel that way.

One thing they know for sure, said Superintendent Michael H. Graner, is that there was a problem with the changing room inside the school's field house. Graner said he met with the female athlete's mother on Tuesday. He agreed it was a mistake to have the girl change in the closet that contained mops, brooms and other supplies.

"The concern was expressed, certainly by the mother, that the room is not adequate, so we're addressing that," Graner said by phone. "We're cleaning it out."

Graner, Fitch Principal Ted Keleher, Athletic Director Marc Romano and football coach Mike Ellis repeatedly stressed during interviews this week that the school district is committed to doing everything it can to make sure female athletes, and all students, feel safe, secure and respected.

Female football players are scarce but not unheard of at Fitch and in the region. A girl played for the Falcons for the past two seasons before moving out of state, according to Romano. She didn't complain about the changing room.

The field house adjacent to the football field appears to have been built with boys in mind. The bottom floor contains a large locker room for boys. The floors and red lockers looked shiny and clean during a walkthrough Friday morning, and the room smelled of the sweat-soaked males who have used it for more than two decades.

The second floor of the facility houses an equipment room, a coach's office and a meeting room containing the closet/changing room in question. The room is located off the meeting room, to the right of the men's and women's bathrooms, beneath the word BIRDGANG in large black letters.  

The changing room locks from the outside, has a window covered by an opaque shade, and is spacious enough to fit several people comfortably. The female stores her belongings in a standing cabinet. The room appeared clean and contained other cabinets and a few pieces of athletic equipment.

"To be honest with you, it's not a great setup," coach Ellis said in a phone interview. "But it's the safest place for a female to be where she has control."

The player doesn't, however, have a key to the room, according to Romano. He said a coach lets her in, the door locks behind her and she lets herself out.

The only other place where a female could change in privacy is within the school building, which is up the hill and not convenient to the field.

The girl's mother told Graner her daughter did not want any publicity, though the mother in a brief conversation from Graner's office agreed to speak to a reporter about the incident. She did not follow up with an arrangement to speak by phone, and could not be located Friday or reached for comment.

Graner said coach Ellis, a father of daughters himself, cares about the atmosphere of his team and works hard to make sure everyone feels respected. 

"Any concerns that the player had, the coaching staff and the athletic director interviewed players to make sure it is a safe and secure environment," Graner said.

The Falcons' season opener was scheduled to take place Friday night at Wilton High School. Their first home game, against Xavier High School, is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 20.

k.florin@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Athletic Director Marc Romano's name.

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