All's fair in love and basketball until you ask a co-ed team to play without the girls.

Sitting in matching navy shirts with #unitygames on the front, the fifth-grade students raised their hands in a vote. It was unanimous.

Photo by John O’Boyle/NJ.com/Advance Media.

The members of the St. John's fifth-grade Catholic Youth Organization basketball team had made their decision. They would rather forfeit that Friday night’s game (and potentially the rest of the season) instead of the alternative: continuing to play without the two girls who had been part of the team for years.


If you’re thinking, "This sounds like the plot of a movie I would be deeply invested in," you’re not alone. The riveting real-life feel-good sports drama is playing out in New Jersey and, thanks to an article by NJ Advance Media, has captured the attention of the nation.

It all started two weeks ago, when the team found out that the girls were not going to be allowed to play on the team for the remainder of the season.

An error that had gone uncorrected for years — the team was never supposed to be co-ed in the first place — created a dilemma. Would the team play without the girls? Or would they stand together and forfeit the game?

But this isn't the part of the story where the coach steps in and teaches the team a lesson about unity. Get ready to be even more impressed.

Photo by John O’Boyle/NJ.com/Advance Media.

Coach Rob Martel refused to make a decision for the kids, instead letting them decide how to move forward on their own.

"One parent told me it's my decision (whether the girls play), but I said no way, I'm not making this decision for 11 10-year-olds," said Martel, whose daughter is one of the girls on the team.

Last Friday, sitting in the gym in matching shirts, the players voted on what they thought was fair, reaching the unanimous decision that unless the whole team could play Friday's game, the whole team would skip it in a show of solidarity.

The following day, the girls tried to return the favor, volunteering to sit out for Saturday’s game in hopes that the boys would be able to play in the final game of the season.

Unfortunately, their generosity was not rewarded. The league director called the team's decision to sit out of Friday's game a "stunt," Keisha Martel, an assistant coach for the St. John’s team, told NJ Advance Media, and as a result, the game was canceled and the season forfeited.

The team wouldn’t be allowed finish the season together, apart, or at all.

Photo by John O’Boyle/NJ.com/Advance Media.

The kids weren’t the only ones disappointed by the situation.

The St. John’s team was scheduled to play their final game against Aquinas Academy on Saturday. Leslie Thomas, Aquinas Academy’s athletic director, received news only hours before that the game was canceled.

Photo by John O’Boyle/NJ.com/Advance Media.

"I'm sick and tired of this," Thomas said. "It's not necessary. This league is about teaching our kids sportsmanship and this is definitely not sportsmanship."

Photo by John O’Boyle/NJ.com/Advance Media.

(Update 2/16/17: Let's hear it for the girls! The decision has been reversed, which means the girls will be allowed back on the St. John's team. And that's not all! The two regular season games the team forfeited will be rescheduled and played ASAP, according to NJ Advance Media. The fifth graders will get a chance to go to the playoffs after all. Most importantly, they'll get to go together.)

Stories like this are just one more example of how girls are often so easily pushed out of sports at a young age.

According to the National Women's Law Center, girls who play sports "report better health, body image, popularity, and an overall higher quality of life, compared to girls who don’t play sports." Unfortunately, as the Women's Sports Foundation has found, by the time girls reach age 14, they're dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys their age.

So what's keeping our girls from pursuing organized team sports and gaining all of those benefits? You guessed it: One of the main reasons for this dramatic decrease in girls playing sports is lack of access.

Think about that. Really think about it. What if lack of access had kept our country's best athletes from the court or the field or the pitch?

For starters, the United States would've won five fewer medals in the Rio Olympics had Simone Biles been told there wasn't a place for her in the gym.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

What about all the girls who are now playing soccer after watching the U.S. Women's National Team win the 2015 FIFA World Cup? What would they be doing after school if Carli Lloyd hadn't been given the opportunity to play growing up?

This story isn't just about these two girls on the St. John's team who are being told after years of playing on the same team as their male peers that they're no longer welcome on the court. This is about every girl who deserves a chance to be part of something bigger than herself and every girl who will be inspired by her in the years to come.

So look around in your community. Do girls have equal access to sports teams? What opportunities can you help create that would allow them pursue the games they love?

Watch the girls. Cheer them on. And if you're the one making the call, let them play.

Courtesy of Verizon
True

If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

via @Todd_Spence / Twitter

Seven years ago, Bill Murray shared a powerful story about the importance of art. The revelation came during a discussion at the National Gallery in London for the release of 2014's "The Monuments Men." The film is about a troop of soldiers on a mission to recover art stolen by the Nazis.

After his first time performing on stage in Chicago, Murray was so upset with himself that he contemplated taking his own life.

"I wasn't very good, and I remember my first experience, I was so bad I just walked out — out onto the street and just started walking," he said.

Keep Reading Show less