Schoolgirls Penny Cula-Reid, 15, Emily Stayner, 15, and Helen Taylor, 14, are taking on Football Victoria, their junior league and two footy clubs in the discrimination court.
At present, a Football Victoria rule stops girls from playing with boys when they reach 12.
But the girls, with more than 300 games’ experience between them, allege the ban is against the law.
The girls’ parents – who have launched the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal case on their behalf – and their footy clubs say they are tough enough to play with boys.
Emily, who has played full-back since she was in under-9s for the Hampton Rovers, is highly regarded by teammates and club officials.
“She’s one of my best players,” Emily’s coach, Anthony Quon, told the Herald Sun.
“She is a strong player and I would back her in a contest over some of the boys in the team.”
Mr Quon also had praise for Murrumbeena’s Penny.
“We played against her once and I didn’t even realise it was a girl,” he said. “She was a good player and I sent someone to man up on her, but was told that’s not a man, it’s a girl!”
Oakleigh Dragons club president Peter Tunik had similar praise for Helen.
“She plays well,” he said. “There was no need for her to be looked after or anything like that. She played football well enough to be in the side.”
Penny, a winger, has played 139 games for Murrumbeena and has won the best team player award in past seasons. While Murrumbeena president Warren Walker refused to comment on her, the tribunal complaint says she was also the first girl to play for Caulfield Grammar at secondary level.
The trio were forced to quit their under-15 and under-16 junior footy sides after round 5 last month when Football Victoria told the Moorabbin Junior Football League they had been breaking the rules for three years.
Emily has been allowed to keep training with the Hampton Rovers, who have not been cited in the legal action.
But fears about liability insurance and a warning from the league means Penny and Helen are not allowed to even warm up.
In statements to the Equal Opportunity Commission, on file at VCAT, each of the girls’ parents says the trio are embarrassed, disappointed and have lost self-esteem since being banned.
“Moreover, she is left with a feeling of inadequacy and extreme frustration at being prevented from contributing to a cause which has meant so much to her for a number of years,” one of the complaints states.
Football Victoria’s Ken Gannon said the girl ban was necessary because of medical reasons.
Gannon said the rules were the rules, and that Emily, Penny and Helen were welcome to play for female clubs.
The hearing will resume on July 24.