The little girl who was told that neither she nor her team could play at a Springfield, Nebraska soccer tournament because she was a boy is feeling better and is inspired to play even more, though the family would still like an apology from the local tournament officials.
"Those who made Mili feel bad, disqualified the team and ignored whatever proof we provided, they should apologize," said Edgar Tovar, who coaches the team and is a friend of the family of Milagros "Mili" Hernandez, who is 8.
Though Tovar said they had not received an apology from the Springfield soccer club, state soccer officials released a statement saying that “while Nebraska State Soccer did not oversee the Springfield Tournament, we recognize that our core values were simply not present this past weekend at this tournament and we apologize to this young girl, her family and her soccer club for this unfortunate understanding.”
Tovar spoke to NBC Latino about the incident that quickly made national headlines.
The Azurri Cachorros ("cachorros" means cubs in Spanish), said Tovar, was ready and excited for the semifinals on Sunday. But then, “the president of the Springfield tournament told us we were disqualified because they had been told we had a boy on our team,” said Tovar.
The Springfield Soccer Association told NBC's WOWT News that there had been a typo in the team's registration roster and Mili had been labeled as a boy. They said "listing a male player on a girls team roster is a violation of state and tournament rules."
But Tovar said that her father provided a copy of a physical exam and her insurance card to prove her sex, but it proved pointless. “They didn’t want to talk to us. They ignored us,” he said.
"Just because I look like a boy doesn't mean I am a boy. They don't have a reason to kick the whole club out," Mili told NBC affiliate WOWT.
Mili, who is of Mexican descent, is one of the team's stars despite being three years younger than her teammates.
Tovar said she is a shy girl with short hair who transforms into a fierce competitor on the soccer field. He said she was more upset about the whole team being disqualified than the error with her gender.
“She kept saying, ‘If they don’t want me to play then I won’t play, but let the team play.’” said Tovar.
Tovar said he along with Gerardo Hernandez, Mili’s father, tried speaking to the president of the tournament and were shut out. The president told them they had received complaints about a boy playing on their team.
“We were angry,” Tovar said.
Mili’s father was upset that his daughter was being discriminated against, said Tovar and he was worried about the long-term repercussions, like the possibility of Mili being bullied.
But in the age of social media, once her story went viral she got support from another short-haired soccer star.
“I know somebody else who has short hair, she’s won gold medals and a World Cup, and U.S. soccer player of the year and FIFA player of the year,” said Abby Wambach, former U.S. women’s national soccer team player.
“You can do anything you want to do and you can be anything you want to be. And guess what? You can look like whatever you need to look like to do that,” Wambach told Hernandez during a 1-minute Instagram video message she recorded for her. “You’re inspiring. You’re a natural born leader,” she added.
Women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm also tweeted her support for the 8-year-old, “Hey Mili, we would love to host you at one of our camps @TeamFirstSA. Be you!” Team First Soccer Academy was founded by Hamm along with fellow women’s soccer stars, Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch.
Tovar said Mili is inspired to play better so stars like Hamm and Wambach see what she’s capable of on the soccer field. Although they haven’t heard directly from Hamm yet, they hope she follows through on her offer.
In the end, said Tovar, Mili is just a regular girl who loves playing soccer.