Milagros “Mili” Hernandez loves soccer, and she’s good at it. Really good. At age 8, the short-haired Nebraska girl plays on an Omaha club team with 11-year-olds.
But on Sunday, Mili’s dad, Gerardo Hernandez, found out his daughter’s girls’ team had been disqualified from the finals of a Springfield tournament, set for that day. The Azzuri-Cachorros Chicas couldn’t play, The Washington Post reports. Somebody had complained that there was a boy on the team.
“They only did it because I look like a boy,” Mili told WOWT 6 News.
Hernandez figured the mistake would be easily rectified. He took his daughter, along with her insurance card listing her gender as female, to the tournament. But when he got there, “They didn’t even want to take it,” he told the Post, “They told us the thing was decided.”
“Just because I look like a boy doesn’t mean I am a boy,” Mili said to WOWT.
But the tournament organizers said Mili’s looks did not influence their decision. Rather, it was a mistake on her registration form.
“(T)he roster submitted to the state by the club identified this player as male, and the competition rules for US Youth Soccer do not allow boys to play on a girls’ team,” Nebraska State Soccer Executive Director Casey Mann said in a written statement.
But Nebraksa State Soccer also said in a statement on Twitter that while it was the local tournament organizers, not the state group, that made the call, “we recognize that our core values were simply not present this past weekend.” It added, “We apologize to this young girl, her family, and her soccer club for this unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The soccer organization said it has suspended its sanction of the Springfield Invitational tournament pending a review of the incident.
Mili’s father said the experience was upsetting for his daughter and that she had cried after finding out she and her team couldn’t play.
But if there’s a silver lining, it may be the outpouring of support Mili has received on social media, especially from some of the world’s best female soccer players.
Olympic gold medalist and Women’s World Cup champion Abby Wambach — who also happens to have short hair — posted a video to Mili, saying, “You’re inspiring, you’re a natural-born leader, Honey, and I’m so proud of you.”
Mia Hamm, another Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion invited Mili to participate in Hamm’s TeamFirst Soccer Academy. Hamm told Mili to “Be You!”
And Billie Jean King, once a top women’s tennis player, tweeted, “Mili, continue to be yourself, dream big and go for it. Take Mia up on her offer.”
As for Mili’s hair, the reason she keeps it short is simple. “When my hair starts to grow, I just put it short because I’ve always had short hair,” says Mili, “I didn’t like my hair long.”
The Post reports Mili is back to kicking the soccer ball and still wants to play the game all the way through high school and college. Then she wants to go pro.