Cheryl Radachowsky was there Wednesday on the steps of the State Capitol. There when it was her daughter Alanna’s turn to speak at the press conference about a federal lawsuit the families of three high school track competitors have filed seeking to stop transgender athletes in Connecticut from participating in girls sporting events.
“I was there,” Radachowsky said, “to support my daughter and the issue of fairness in women’s sports.”
Alanna Smith, the 2019 New England outdoor 400-meter champion as a Danbury High ninth grader, is from no ordinary athletic family. Her father Lee Smith, one of the great relief pitchers in Major League Baseball history, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last year in Cooperstown. Alanna’s uncle — Cheryl’s brother George Radachowsky Jr. — went on to star at Boston College after Danbury and played defensive back in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets.
“George Jr. has been instrumental in guiding and coaching Alanna in training and preparing her to be her physical best, but also in the mental preparation for competition,” said Cheryl, who ran the mile and two-mile at Danbury.
These are not people unfamiliar with the higher echelon of athletics. Yes, they have been around the track a few times.
“Mentally and physically, we know the outcome before the race even starts,” Alanna told reporters at the state Capitol. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
Hearing those words, knowing that her daughter has lost to transgender athlete Terry Miller of Bloomfield in big races, I asked Radachowsky what kind of stress it causes a mother.
“It goes beyond stress,” she said. “It shocks me into reality that women are still fighting for fairness and equality in so many areas of our life, and that my teenage daughter in the 21st century has to question the general inequalities we face and the more specific inequality of fairness of play at the high school athletic level.
“I remember driving with Alanna to a track meet and when I asked her what her strategy for the races were, she told me she knew she was going to lose and that she would simply strive for a personal best. There is nothing as heartbreaking as hearing your daughter feel so defeated after working so hard, all because of an unfair competition.”
Over the past three years, the track and field stories of transgender athletes Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell and Miller of Bloomfield have gone from curiosity to questioning to acrimonious to litigious, from Connecticut around the world and back again. Over three years, I’ve written a number of times on the subject and each time I seem to satisfy few.
Denying a transgender athlete a chance to compete with the gender of his or her choice is wrong. To deny that opportunity at a delicate age, when drug use and suicide are realities for those who wrestle with gender and sexual identity, lowers the standards of our humanity.
Yet at the same time, to have biological boys running against biological girls in a high school foot race is not — on that day, at that moment — a level playing field. And if it happens in the biggest moments of a young person’s athletic life, the results can be heartbreaking and, yes, unfair.
I wrote the two previous paragraphs last year and am not changing a word. Two truths can be simultaneous. It doesn’t make one a hypocrite or weak, although I have been called both by both sides and it bothers the hell out of me. Still, we must push for the best solution, compassionate yet fair, for our high school athletes. After wracking my brain for three years … don’t count the team points and individual placements, create a separate division for transgender athletes, et al., and not coming up with anything satisfying to both sides, I listen. Listen to people’s stories.
Alanna Smith is a twin. Nicholas, also a sophomore at Danbury, plays football, basketball and baseball. Alanna was born first and she reminds her brother if he needs reminding. They always have been close. They are outstanding students.
“For the first four years of elementary school,” Cheryl said, “they had to be in the same class and sit next to each other. They are best friends.”
Alanna is quiet, at least around family.
“She doesn’t say negative things about classmates,” Cheryl said, “always gives someone the benefit of the doubt. She has compassion.
“Nicholas is the comedian with wit, charm and personality. He is not afraid to express his ideas or say what he wants for his birthday, or text his grandmother thoughtful messages.”
Even in preschool and kindergarten they were competitive. Nick always wanted to race his sister.
“Alanna always obliged his requests, even in flip flops!” Cheryl said. “Ready, set, go and Alanna was already ahead. Nicholas would demand a re-match and for a half hour he would try to win. Her long lean legs and great stride were always steps ahead.”
When Alanna was in the first grade, Cheryl was running a 5K and she signed her daughter up for a kids mile fun run. Alanna finished second to a fifth grader. After Cheryl, who works as a consultant in the health care IT systems field, moved back to Danbury, Alanna flourished in youth track. She became a three-time state middle school champion in the 100 and twice in the 400.
Cheryl said the twins are each other’s biggest cheerleader. In Alanna’s case, this is not a metaphor. Anna doesn’t run indoor track for Danbury. She is a cheerleader, a tumbling dervish, for the Hatters. This is a girl who won the New Englands as a freshman in the 400 last spring with a sparkling time of 55.49 seconds, a school and FCIAC record. Yet last week, she helped lead Danbury to the FCIAC cheerleading girls division title and last year was named All-State.
A biracial girl who excels in an individual sport for her high school and excels in a team sport in support of the high school? If Alanna Smith isn’t the definition of what the CIAC celebrates, no one is.
Yet along with the families of Selina Soule, a senior at Glastonbury, and Chelsea Mitchell, a senior at Canton, Smith and Radachowsky find themselves in lawsuits against Connecticut’s governing body. A Title IX complaint also was filed last June. The families are represented by the conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which claims two athletes who are “biologically male” have taken 15 girls CIAC championship titles previously held by nine different girls and that several girls from 2017-2019 were denied 85 opportunities to participate in higher-level competition. That, Radachowsky said, denies some athletes many chances to be seen by college recruiters.
Connecticut is one of 17 states to allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions. The CIAC policy is to follow a state anti-discrimination law that students must be treated by the gender with which they identify. While this doesn’t affect the CIAC policy, Yearwood and Miller have said they have begun transitioning to women. They have not provided details.
“The competition is unfair right now,” ADF attorney Christiana Holcomb responded when asked the need for a second suit. “Two of the girls we represent are graduating seniors and they shouldn’t be deprived of opportunities simply because they are about to graduate.”
Holcomb said Wednesday the CIAC may pretend that it’s progressive, but instead the CIAC is violating Title IX.
“Science and common sense tell us that there are biological advantages males have over girls,” Radachowsky said.
After scoring a triple victory in the 100, 200 and 400 in the Class LL outdoor meet, Smith finished third in the 100 and 200 in the Open. Miller DQ’d in the 100 and won the 200.
“Alanna raced under pretense of a fair and level competitive field and she ran to be a champion,” said Radachowsky, a day before Mitchell did beat Miller for the Class S 55-meter indoor title. “But realizing that at the State Open last June she’d be running against a competitor who had competed as a male two years earlier was confidence shaking, it rattled her psyche, it made her nervous.
“It inspired her to train all the harder, to try to shut out the talk/the buzz around her. Yet at the same time it also undermined that training as she knew there were undeniable physiological differences between men and women and that all her training may not be enough to defeat a post-puberty male now ‘identifying as.’ Imagine that … You feel defeated before you’ve even run because of the unlevel playing field.”
The Radachowsky legend on the high school playing fields of Connecticut can be traced more than six decades. George “Mr. Touchdown” Radachowsky Sr. broke a 99-yard touchdown run on Thanksgiving Day 1954 to give Danbury the only undefeated, untied season in school history.
And now the family says it only wants that playing field to be level.
“This has nothing to do with lifestyle,” Alanna Smith said. “It’s simply about fairness of play.”
Discrimination against transgender athletes?
“That’s not what is happening at all,” Cheryl Radachowsky said. “This is about fairness in women’s sports.”