Meet Melanie Rodriguez, the girl Narbonne wants for its boys’ soccer team

Melanie Rodriguez stands on the field during a team practice session.
Melanie Rodriguez, formerly the goalkeeper for the Narbonne girls’ soccer team, will start for the boys’ team this winter.
(Courtesy of Leslie Mazariegos)
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The words ambushed Melanie Rodriguez in the halls at Harbor City Narbonne High one day last spring, caught in the scramble between classes by boys’ soccer coach Jason Whitaker, presented with a possibility she didn’t know was possible.

“Hey, Mel,” Rodriguez remembered Whitaker saying, “what do you think about playing boys’ varsity soccer?”

She didn’t think. Hadn’t thought. The proposition was a surprise.

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But Whitaker had no goalie, with senior Ivan Hernandez graduating, and wasn’t about to rely on summer suspense to bring in a freshman who somehow could step capably into goal for the reigning Marine League champions. So his quest to find the best goalkeeper on campus brought him to Rodriguez, a 5-foot-5, 128-pound rising senior who’d manned the goal adeptly for an 8-4 girls’ team in the fall.


“I was like, ‘Agh, you know, I have no goalie, I need a goalie,’” Whitaker said. “I don’t care if she’s a girl. I care if she’s a good goalie.”

The CIF, however, may block Whitaker’s plans.

Under CIF bylaws, a girl can not play for a boys team if the school has a girls team in the same sport, City Section commissioner Vicky Lagos confirmed to The Times on Saturday. Narbonne believes Rodriguez could play on a boys team under Title IX, the federal law that protects against gender-based discrimination.

If Narbonne is set on Rodriguez playing, they’d have to seek an exception to CIF state bylaw 300 B-2.

Dawn Xitco, an athletic specialist with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said she couldn’t recall whether a girl had ever tried out for a boys team during her 10-year tenure.

If allowed to play, Rodriguez would take over arguably the most important position for a team that competed in Division I of the City playoffs last season.

“I was a little bit intimidated at first,” Rodriguez said, “but I’m one to take a challenge head-on.”


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Her mother Leslie Mazariegos, still is worried for her safety. There will be backtalk and lashings and controversy, Mazariegos imagines.

But her daughter plans to be in that goal, Mazariegos said, for a reason. For the passion that first transfixed Rodriguez as a young girl while watching the 2014 World Cup, begging her mother to let her play soccer after she saw Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa crash into goalposts to deny Brazil.

“I would like to be an inspiration for girls,” Rodriguez said when asked what’s driving her to play for the boys. “I notice a lot of girls fail to do things because boys tell them not to do it, or the men in their lives tell them not to do it.

“And I want to be an example of a person who does it despite what other people say.”


10:36 p.m. July 15, 2023: Includes information regarding CIF bylaws.