Mili Hernandez adores soccer. She’s quite talented at it, too. The eight-year-old Nebraskan plays for the Omaha Azzuri Cachorros, a club team meant for 11-year-old girls.
But last weekend, Hernandez’s entire team was disqualified from a soccer tournament in Springfield, Nebraska because organizers were certain that she was a boy. Their proof? Hernandez has a short hair cut.
“She was in shock, she was crying,” Geraldo Hernandez, Mili’s father, told WOWT 6 News in Nebraska.
The Hernandez family showed organizers the eight-year-old’s insurance card that listed her sex as female, but claim it did not change the minds of the tournament organizers.
Hernandez says she keeps her hair short because that’s the way she likes it.
“When my hair starts to grow I put it short because I’ve always had short hair. I didn’t like my hair long,” she said.
“Just because I look like a boy doesn’t mean I am a boy.”
— Lydia Williams (@lydsaussie) June 5, 2017
Top soccer stars in the U.S. are rallying around Hernandez. Current U.S. women’s national team player Lydia Williams tweeted a photo of her short hair as a child with the message “Keep doing you Mili,” and retired legend Abby Wambach recorded a passionate video of support for Hernandez on Instagram.
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“Listen, I’ve heard the news and all I can say is that your courage to want to stand up and talk about it and your bravery is going to help that next kid that’s put in this similar situation,” Wambach said in the video. “You’re inspiring. You’re a natural born leader honey, and I’m so proud of you. I want to tell you a few things. First of all, you don’t look like a boy, you look like a girl, with short hair, and that’s okay.
“Also, I know somebody else who has short hair. She’s won gold medals and a World Cup and US Soccer Player of the Year and FIFA Player of the Year. 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 want to look like to do it.”
Tournament organizers say the disqualification occurred because there was a misprint on the team roster, which listed Hernandez as a boy. Hernandez’s coach said this was a typo, and the family provided a doctor’s physical form and the insurance card, but the Springfield Soccer Club would not relent.
Organizers for the tournament say Hernandez’s family can challenge the disqualification by appealing the ruling to the Nebraska State Soccer Association, but the tournament in question is already over.
Hey Mili, we would love to host you at one of our camps @TeamFirstSA . Be you!
— Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm) June 5, 2017
Hernandez has gone back to practice, and according to WOWT 6 News Reporter Brandon Scott, she is “focused on the game, not the buzz” surrounding her disqualification. She merely wants to keep playing soccer.
With Wambach wanting to meet her, and Mia Hamm inviting her to a soccer camp at her academy, the good news is that Hernandez will have plenty of opportunities in the future to play the game she loves.