By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - An 11-year-old girl won her fight to play football with boys in the Philadelphia-area Roman Catholic youth leagues when the Archdiocese reversed an earlier decision and said on Thursday it would permit co-ed play.
The case of Caroline Pla, of suburban Buckingham Township, drew international attention when an online petition on her behalf drew 108,000 supporters, according to her mother, Seal Pla.
The girl's family was told last fall that Caroline could no longer play on the team, as she had done for two seasons. She was the only girl on the team.
But on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput, told the family it changed its mind.
"At the direction of the Archbishop, the Archdiocese will allow for co-ed participation in CYO football, effective in the 2013 season," the church said in a statement.
The decision was made despite the recommendation of a panel drawn up by the church of parents, clergy, coaches and other experts which studied the issue and said it believed that the Catholic Youth Organization should continue to ban girls' participation.
Chaput opted to override that recommendation, the statement from the archdiocese said.
The girl's mother said the family was notified of the change of heart at the archdiocese by email.
"She was jumping up and down, she was so happy," Seal Pla said. "Issues relating to how the church treats its young people are really important right now, and this is a huge positive step forward.
"For Caroline, this was never about just her, but about all girls who want to play the sports they love. It was about allowing kids like Caroline the opportunity to grow physically and spiritually."
According to the church statement, the old policy reflected the church's thoughts on the importance of gender differences and the development of mature male and female identities.
Caroline was not available for comment Thursday night. She was attending a banquet for her basketball team.
Other archdioceses, such as those in Cleveland and Wilmington, Delaware, have no gender exclusion like the one that was in effect in Philadelphia.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by David Brunnstrom)