A California Christian school settled a Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit in August over its policy of refusing to allow its high school football team to play against opponents with female players.
Less than two months later, the Central Coast school again forfeited a scheduled 8-man game against a team with girls on its roster.
This is the fourth straight season Valley Christian Academy in Santa Maria has forfeited a game because of a policy that the school’s superintendent says has been in place since 2018. The last two forfeits have come against Coast Valley League opponent Cambria Coast Union, with the latest on Saturday, because the school had girls on its team.
“We have a policy in our school that boys are not to touch girls. And that is a policy to protect our young men and to respect our young ladies mainly,” said Valley Christian Academy Supt. Joel Mikkelson, who’s also the lead pastor at First Baptist Church. “That policy extends over onto the athletic field, specifically football. … So our policy is we will not play a team that has a girl on its roster.”
Mikkelson said Valley Christian Academy, an educational ministry of First Baptist Church, does not have an issue with its boys’ teams playing against teams with girls on the roster for noncontact sports, such as basketball and baseball, and has done so in the past.
Not allowing Valley Christian Academy to play a football game against a team with a girl on it resulted in a lawsuit in September 2021.
Valley Christian Academy forfeited two games to league opponent Cuyama Valley — one during the 2020-21 school year and another in 2021-22. Cuyama Valley had a girl playing receiver in each of those seasons. The girl, who was a minor at the time, and her guardian filed a lawsuit two years ago against First Baptist, Valley Christian Academy and Mikkelson. The suit listed five claims against the defendants, including a Title IX violation for sex discrimination and/or hostile environment.
According to the lawsuit, Cuyama Valley’s female player took part in a scrimmage against Valley Christian Academy in March 2021, prior to the COVID-delayed 2020-21 football season. “Only once her helmet was removed could Defendant Valley Christian’s team, coaches, parents and, on information and belief, Defendant Mikkelson, see that Plaintiff was, in fact, female,” the lawsuit reads.
Two days later, according to the lawsuit, Valley Christian Academy informed Cuyama Valley “that they made the decision to uproot their entire football schedule to avoid playing” against the female player again.
“In Defendants’ eyes, Plaintiff, as a woman, was too weak and frail to compete in a ‘man’s sport’ such as football,” the lawsuit states, “even though she already had done so, against Defendant Valley Christian, successfully.”
U.S. District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong later dismissed some of the claims, including all the claims against Mikkelson as an individual defendant, but allowed some to stand. The latter group included the Title IX claim, despite Valley Christian Academy’s filed arguments it should be dismissed on several grounds, including Section 106.41 (b) of Title IX, which mentions an exemption for contact sports such as football.
The parties reached a settlement before the case reached trial, with the defendants agreeing to pay the plaintiff $20,000 ($11,040 in damages and $8,959 for attorneys costs and fees). In August, the court approved the settlement and dismissed the case with prejudice.
Mikkelson insisted that Title IX is being misread by most people.
“Title IX is very clear that contact sports are exempt from Title IX,” Mikkelson said. “That’s the language — contact sports are exempt from Title IX. It is an unfortunate tragedy that that is not understood by most people.”
Mikkelson made it clear the Lions fully intend to continue forfeiting games that conflict with their beliefs, even if it costs them games.
“We have the utmost respect for the women that we enroll here at our school, the women that are enrolled in other schools, for women in general,” Mikkelson said. “And that’s the reason for our policy is to teach our young men to be men who love God and respect women. And that does come down to some tough policies, but it is all about wanting to be people who are good citizens in this world and examples of Christ.”
Valley Christian Academy won its first four games of this season, three by lopsided scores and one by forfeit. But the Lions are now 0-1 in league play after giving an automatic win to Coast Union. It is the second straight year the Broncos have had two girls on their roster.
“Our league knows that that is our school’s policy and they know that if that’s [a school’s] choice to put a female on the team then there is a forfeit on the horizon,” Mikkelson said. “So it’s known from year to year. It’s not a surprise.”
Last year, Valley Christian Academy’s forfeit against Coast Union hurt the Lions’ chances at the outright league championship. They instead finished in a three-way tie for the title. Mikkelson said the school is well aware something similar could happen this year.
“This is not about arrogance, this is not about pride, this is not about unfairness. In all fairness, we want to treat women with gentleness and respect. And so we want our young men to apply that to the football field,” Mikkelson said. “And we believe football is a violent game, and accordingly we want them to operate within the rules of football and hit people well. And we don’t want them to do that to a young lady.
“And so we will forfeit a game. … We give the victory to that other team, so any other team that would complain about that, it’s extremely unfortunate. You know, the reality of this situation is … we probably won’t win the league championship this year because of that policy that we want to stand by, to treat young ladies with respect.”
The Times reached out to the CIF Southern Section, which governs high school sports in most of Southern California, with questions about Valley Christian Academy’s practice of forfeiting football games rather than take the field against teams with female players. Assistant commissioner Thom Simmons responded by email: “We are aware of the situation and are in the process of reviewing information on the issue. Until that process has been completed it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Coast Union athletic director and football coach Andrew Crosby declined to comment for this story. But he expressed his displeasure with the situation after last year’s forfeit in an email to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
“I am upset with VCA’s decision, especially because [the players] are being singled out for their gender,” Crosby wrote, adding that he would “not consider either of them sitting out. They are part of our team and will suit up for every game.”