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Talent will out, but risks a gender check

Michael Prestage finds females in Wales feel they get a raw deal from PE teachers who can be insensitive and off-putting. When Helen Jones was playing soccer for a girls' team in a tournament, the rival male manager stopped the game and demanded that her gender was checked because she was playing so well.

It is not the only unpleasantness the 14-year-old has faced since she became hooked on football at primary school and starred in the mixed under-10 team. At her secondary school she is frequently taunted as a "cross-dresser".

"It doesn't really bother me now," she said, "but I think it will be a problem as I get older. I think I am as good as the boys, if not better. I played in the boys' team here in the first and second year."

At least at Darland High School, Rossett, near Wrexham, she gets the chance to play. The school has been praised for its range of sports and its links with the community.

Emma Griffiths, aged 12, has just signed up for a girls-only golf coaching course run in conjunction with Wrexham Golf Club. "I think it is good there are a few things for us to try here, and not having any boys means it won't be so competitive," she said.

Dawn McGregor-Dearie, 15, tried judo as part of a self-defence course for girls at the school and was encouraged to join a nearby club. She is now a member of the Welsh junior squad.

She said: "I like the physical aspect of the sport. People say it isn't suitable for a woman, but it's OK if you look after yourself on the mat. The boys I know don't mind because I don't tell them."

Headteacher Derrick Gwilliam said the school set up a programme four years ago to offer a range of sports and bring in coaches from the community to teach pupils after school. Youngsters who are interested can join local clubs and the scheme has helped to involve girls.

He said: "We are conscious of getting the balance right between boys and girls. There is a big gap between what girls can do in school and what is then on offer from clubs in the community. Hence few girls continue with sport after 14 and it is a problem that has to be addressed."

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