'They thought I was a boy': short-haired girl barred from soccer tournament

Mili Hernandez is a talented soccer player.
Mili Hernandez is a talented soccer player.  Photo: WOWT News

Mili Hernandez is an 8-year-old standout soccer player who is so good she plays on a team with 11-year-old girls.

Her team, the Azzuri Cachorros, advanced to the finals of a tournament in Springfield, Nebraska, but Mili and her teammates were abruptly sent home on Saturday after their coach got a surprising phone call: They had been disqualified because someone complained that Mili was a boy.

The story of what happened to Mili and her team attracted news coverage and criticism, but also drew words of support from high-profile female athletes.

Mili, who wears her hair short, has been playing soccer for three years and never had an issue like this before, her father Gerardo Hernandez said.

He said she was devastated, and he was frustrated. He tried to show officials her health insurance card to prove her gender, he said, but they would not look at it.

"They said there is nothing we can do," Hernandez said.

Mili said her chances to play in the tournament, the Ray Heimes Springfield Invitational, were derailed "because they thought I was a boy."

The Omaha World-Herald reported that the episode started when someone - it was not clear who - told tournament officials that a boy was playing on a team of girls.

That complaint set off a chain of events.


William J Bianco, a lawyer for the tournament program, told The World-Herald that officials found that Mili was listed as a male on the team roster for the regular season and the tournament. Officials said it was a typo but still a rule violation.

The Nebraska State Soccer Association said in a statement it "would never disqualify" a player from participating on a girls' team based on her appearance.

"However," it added, "it is important to note that the roster submitted to the state by the club identified this player as male, and the competition rules for US Youth Soccer do not allow boys to play on a girls' team."

The association said it did not run the tournament, nor was it involved in decisions about its rules, players or teams. Those are handled by a separate tournament director and committee.

After it learned of "these regrettable actions," the association said, it suspended its sanctioning of the tournament, pending a detailed review.

In a separate statement, Casey Mann, the association's executive director, said "we recognise that our core values were simply not present this past weekend at this tournament, and we apologise to this young girl, her family and her soccer club for this unfortunate misunderstanding."

The disqualification provoked criticism on social media.

On the Springfield Soccer Complex's Facebook page, Amsley Pietranton wrote that she had a childhood friend who wore her hair short during the summer months because long hair would aggravate a skin condition on her neck.

"To discriminate against a little girl just because of her hair cut is despicable!" she wrote. "Plus a ton of professional female athletes have short hair as it makes it easier. It is 2017 stuff like this should not be happening in the United States!"

Mili even drew support from the two-time Olympic soccer gold medalists Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm.

Wambach wrote on Twitter: "Mili, don't EVER let anyone tell you that you aren't perfect just as you are. I won championships with short hair."

Hernandez said Mili was an enthusiastic player who practiced multiple times a week.

Mili said she was aware of the support and attention. As for what it meant to her, she said, "That people care."