For years, soccer has been her lifeline. But she's worried politicians could take it away.

“I really just don't want to move out of New Hampshire,” said Parker Tirrell. “Like, this is my home. I was born here, I was raised here.” (New Hampshire Public Radio - Paul Cuno-Booth)

“I really just don't want to move out of New Hampshire,” said Parker Tirrell. “Like, this is my home. I was born here, I was raised here.” (New Hampshire Public Radio - Paul Cuno-Booth) —

Fraser Kirkpatrick, Parker’s high school coach, said he knows how important soccer is to her — and so do the rest of her teammates. “We all want her on the team,” he said. (Salmon Press Newspapers - Joshua Spaulding)

Fraser Kirkpatrick, Parker’s high school coach, said he knows how important soccer is to her — and so do the rest of her teammates. “We all want her on the team,” he said. (Salmon Press Newspapers - Joshua Spaulding) —

The Tirrells' roots are firmly planted in New Hampshire. Parker's father, Zach, is on the Plymouth selectboard. Her mom, Sara, serves on the boards of local nonprofits. Parker’s lived in the area her whole life. (New Hampshire Public Radio - Paul Cuno-Booth)

The Tirrells' roots are firmly planted in New Hampshire. Parker's father, Zach, is on the Plymouth selectboard. Her mom, Sara, serves on the boards of local nonprofits. Parker’s lived in the area her whole life. (New Hampshire Public Radio - Paul Cuno-Booth) —

By PAUL CUNO-BOOTH

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 03-21-2024 6:12 PM

Parker Tirrell began playing soccer when she was four. She’s never wanted to stop.

Today, the 15-year-old’s life revolves around the sport. In the fall, she’s at practice every day after school, and squeezing in homework at night after away games. There’s indoor soccer in the winter, then the spring season back outdoors, and summer training camp in August.

“It feels very freeing,” she said. “I don't know how else to describe it, other than an escape from having to think about other things. All I have to be focused on is the game itself.”

Last fall, Parker was thrilled to make the varsity team as a freshman at Plymouth Regional High in Plymouth, N.H. They didn’t win any games, but they played hard. A few times, Parker’s photo appeared in the local paper — though one picture caught her some flak from her coach.

“He tells me to not jump at the ball,” she said. “And then they took a picture of me jumping at the ball and put it in the newspaper. So I can't pretend I never did that now.”

She hopes to get a scholarship to keep playing soccer in college and dreams of trying to make it as a pro some day. But she’s worried she’ll be forced to give up the sport before she gets the chance — simply because she is trans.

Lawmakers in the New Hampshire House were scheduled to vote on Thursday on whether to ban transgender girls like Parker from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, instead limiting them to teams that match the sex listed on their original birth certificate.

It’s part of a wave of recent legislation, in New Hampshire and around the country, targeting the rights of trans youth: what bathrooms they can use, how they can express themselves at school and what kind of health care they can receive. Parker said the school sports proposal feels like a slap in the face.

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“It would disconnect me from so many of my friends, from something that I'm very passionate about,” she said, “and something that just brings me a lot of joy in my life.”

‘We all want her on the team’

In State House debates over school sports eligibility, Republican lawmakers have claimed it’s unfair and unsafe to let trans girls compete with other girls. Leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatricians, have pushed back on such claims, saying it’s not clear trans athletes have an inherent advantage. Medical professionals and civil rights groups have also warned that it’s discriminatory to exclude trans kids from all the benefits of participating in sports.

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports, also supports the right of trans athletes to compete in accordance with their gender identity, saying it would be “fundamentally unjust” to bar them from participating.

It’s been frustrating, Parker said, to hear politicians without any insight into her experiences — and the years of work she’s put in on the field — suggest that she’s at an unfair advantage because she’s trans.

“It's not a gender advantage. It's a commitment thing,” she said. “I have been playing for years.”

“They're talking about me without knowing what's going on or, like, even knowing any other trans person,” she added.

Growing up, Parker played on boys’ teams. But she often felt isolated, like she didn’t fit in.

“Those boys always pushed me around more and were more aggressive and cold and rude towards me,” she said.

After Parker realized she was trans in middle school, she began transitioning and joined the girls’ team in 8th grade. It all went pretty smoothly.

“All of my friends immediately accepted it,” she said. “They had questions because it's not something that they were used to, but it's not like they were discriminating or doing anything like that.”

The same goes for the other girls on the team; Parker said they just treat her like any other teammate. Being around people who accept her, she said, has given her more confidence — and made soccer more fun.

Fraser Kirkpatrick, Parker’s high school coach, has known her for years through other youth soccer leagues.

He knows how important soccer is to Parker, and so do the rest of her teammates.

“We all want her on the team,” he said.

'This is my home’

Parker’s parents are watching the political climate anxiously. They say sports have helped her grow as a person, and develop skills like leadership and teamwork. They don’t want to see that taken away.

And it goes beyond sports. Parker is receiving gender-affirming hormone therapy as part of her transition, which has also been under attack at the State House in recent years. While lawmakers have backed off of earlier proposals to outlaw hormone therapy for young people, they are still targeting other kinds of gender-affirming care — and Parker’s family worries they won’t stop there.

“While soccer is certainly a passion, we get even more worried if we start thinking about or talking about any restrictions to the medication, any restrictions to the things that allow Parker to live as the person that she is,” her father, Zach Tirrell, said.

Their family’s roots are firmly planted in New Hampshire. Zach is on the Plymouth Selectboard. Parker’s mom, Sara Tirrell, serves on the boards of local nonprofits. Parker’s lived in the area her whole life.

But if state lawmakers take away her ability to play sports, or otherwise live her life? “We would potentially consider whether there was a different state that would be more supportive for us,” Zach said.

It’s not something Parker likes to think about.

“I really just don't want to move out of New Hampshire,” she said. “Like, this is my home. I was born here, I was raised here.”

Most of the time, Parker tries to tune out the debates happening in Concord. She’d rather just focus on soccer — and what she hopes to achieve next season.

“Stay a starter, stay on varsity, play my hardest, score goals as much as I can every game if possible,” she said, ticking off her aspirations for her sophomore year. “Especially because I get ice cream when I score.”

She really hopes that tradition can continue.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.