This week 40 years ago, a much younger me started junior high school. At the time, I left the last class of the day and headed straight to the first practice of our school’s cross-country team.

The coach was an art teacher with returning eighth graders as lieutenants, leading us fresh plebes through a set of dynamic warm-up drills.

We did a 3.5-mile run and 200-meter intervals on our school’s makeshift track as a workout.

The hard practice in the late summer Nebraska heat didn’t matter. What mattered was being on the team.

Being on the school team.

Looking back from this internet-driven, scout-recruit, constant-stream sports landscape, the simple, quaint joy of having the name of the school on the uniform still raises goosebumps.

It’s the anticipation through classes on meet day.

The bus ride to the race against the rival schools.

The butterflies as your fellow teammates cheer and push you along the course.

In 24 states now, some of the nation’s transgender youth have been cut as they entered their school building on the first day of school.

Each of those states ban transgender girl students — and some reaching beyond that — from participating in female school sports.

Alaska is the most recent.

The state’s Board of Education voted to ban trans girls from playing alongside cis girls in high school sports, despite not having a known out transgender student participate in seven years.

Republican Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy’s appointed board voted 7-1 on August 31 to mandate that trans girls in their school are not “female” when it comes to sports.

Felix Meyers, a student representative to Alaska’s Board of Education was a lone voice of official dissent

The lone no vote was cast by the board’s student representative, Felix Meyers.

The high school student from Sitka pushed back on what has become a dominant narrative of fear that trans girls are transitioning to “dominate” girls’ sports.

“I don’t think anyone would go through the strain, the bullying, all of the problems that come with being around kids when you’re different,” he noted in the board meeting. “If someone is truly going to go out of their way to identify this way, that is a huge sacrifice and they are the bravest, bravest students among us.

“When it comes back to helping protect girls’ sports, I think there’s a lot more issues that we can address here in Alaska.”

The decision made last Thursday went into effect immediately and led to a protest march in Anchorage over the weekend.

The general tone was sadness, anger and frustration.

“The board gave into their base fears,” Anchorage city assembly member Felix Rivera fumed. “They could have done better. Instead of voting on this policy they could have tried to make youth sports more welcoming for everyone.”

Behind this vote was criticism and fear over legislation that few in Alaska wanted, except certain groups with vested political interest in transphobia, such as the Alaska Family Council.

The AFC is one of many groups within individual states with political and financial ties to groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, who have been targeted by groups like GLAAD as an anti-trans hate group.

In 2022 a trans student-athlete ban failed on the floor of the Alaska Senate. A bill pushing restrictions on trans students and parental notification died in committee earlier this year .

The last time Alaska had a transgender girl playing a high school sport was in 2016. Nattaphon Wangyot, then a senior at Haines High School, participated in volleyball and basketball. She was best known for her performance at the state high school track and field championships that year.

She was fast enough to reach the finals at 100 and 200 meters, finishing fifth and third respectively. As expected, she received pushback.

“Some hateful people make me stronger and stronger,” Wangyot told Alaska Public Media then about the criticism she received. “So I want to say ‘thank you’ for everybody.”

The chatter against Wangyot has played over and over whenever transgender girls and women do well. This year alone, two trans girl student-athletes in California were targets of anti-trans protest to the point where they chose not to compete at their state championship.

There has also been similar legislation signed — with public fanfare — in Missouri and Texas. At the same time, the Biden Administration moved forward with Title IX changes that allow for certain restrictions while saying that transgender inclusion in school sports is “complicated.”

The Iditarod’s first trans woman competitor Apayaug Reitan expressed fears that many trans Americans are feeling on the issues.

In the middle are worried transgender Americans, including myself and a prominent Alaskan trans woman in sports who put their concerns in blunt focus during that committee hearing in March.

“I’m worried about bills like this,” Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to compete in an Iditarod said. “I’m worried about my future in Alaska.”

Her feeling are echoed loudest among many families of trans youth in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The student-athlete bans have been passed steadily since 2020. Those bills helped launch the return of bathroom panic in some areas and a wave of affirming-care bans that seem to be in daily rotation.

The overwhelming legislation that has been up for consideration nationwide is also fueling a growing migration of transgender Americans.

Data for Progress revealed in June that 8% of transgender adults have moved out of states that are passing or considering anti-trans legislation. That’s a conservative estimate of 130,000 Americans, and some estimates factor in families of trans youth more than double that number.

Caught in the crossfire are transgender kids, whether they play sports or not. They return to the classrooms scorned, belittled and, for trans youngsters who may want to play school sports in Alaska and various states, “othered,” told they aren’t really girls.

Alaska School Activities Association executive director Billy Strickland stated last week that trans girls would compete alongside cisgender and transgender boys in a designated “open” category using birth certificates as the dividing line.

That young girl will be demeaned and misgendered, and I would suggest the AASA ask Mack Beggs about basing trans participation on a birth certificate done a decade or more beforehand.

What hurts most is some potential student-athlete will have a special piece of the school experience snatched away.

The pride of having your school’s name on your chest. The shared sacrifice as teammates push you on and cheer you on.

I got to hold that special piece all the way to our city’s school championship that year, in 1983. With our two best runners near the front, and the rest of us putting in our best efforts of the season, we won that team championship. I chipped in with a personal best and a top-25 effort I was pleased with.

Team spirit and school spirit in competition are those special pieces. Every school student should have the choice and the chance to experience those.