CLARK — Let the girls play ball.

St. John’s team reacts to news their season will continue with girls

That was the message sent Wednesday from the the Archdiocese of Newark’s newly installed archbishop, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, a dramatic reversal of a decision made two weeks ago to remove two 10-year-old girls from St. John’s 5th grade CYO basketball team.

After the girls were removed, their nine boy teammates stood in solidarity, refusing to play without them at a game on Friday. The story of their resolve gained widespread publicity after being reported by NJ Advance Media.

The team was told after that game that their season was forfeited because of the “stunt” and the final regular season game was canceled, parents said.

But today, Archbishop Tobin announced that the girls are to be immediately put back on the team, their record is to be reinstated, the two regular games that were not played are to be rescheduled and played immediately, and the team is to continue on together into the playoffs.

In a statement, Jim Goodness, spokesman for the archdiocese, wrote, “While he recognizes that the recent decisions by CYO officials were aimed at an appropriate and consistent application of the organization’s rules, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, believes that the Saint John’s JV Black team should not have been penalized for mistakes that adults responsible for following the league rules may have made.” See the full statement, below.

After school, the team gathered in the gym where they waited for “an important announcement” from their coach, Rob Martel, who is also the father of one of the girls on the team.

“Our season is going to continue as a team, and we’re going to the playoffs,” Martel told the group, fighting back tears. Watch how the team reacted in our video, above.

Last year, the team made it all the way to the championship game.

Tobin, who is considered to be a moderate churchman in the mold of Pope Francis, was officially installed on Jan. 6 as the sixth Archbishop of Newark.

The team’s coaches said they were in disbelief when they received the word via an email this morning.

“This is all we ever wanted,” said Keisha Martel, the team’s assistant coach and the mother of one of the girls on the team. “The cardinal and our pastor from the beginning supported us, and we understand that it was on the advice of counsel and the CYO league director that the cardinal rescinded his decision. For him to overturn the CYO league director’s decision speaks volumes, and we are so grateful. This was never about being defiant or wanting to break, bend or change rules. It was about fairness for these 10 year olds, about finishing the season the way they started – together.”

The decision to remove the girls came weeks ago, after a complaint was filed when St. John’s played St. Theresa’s, a few miles away in Kenilworth. There, another crusade is being waged – the family of a 7th grade girl, Sydney Phillips, sued after the school wouldn’t allow her to play for its boys basketball team. Phillips and her sister were expelled from the school after the suit, but on Feb. 3, an appeals court judge ruled they must be allowed to return to school.

It seemed the St. John’s battle could still be won at a point: Seeing the boys’ resolve, parents took up the fight and even had St. John’s pastor, Rev. Robert G. McBride, hand-deliver a letter to Tobin.

The parents say Tobin initially took their side, saying the girls could at least finish out their season, but days later, he rescinded his decision, citing legal issues, they say.

“We already knew he was on our side based on his reaction to the letter last week,” said team parent Alexandra Costa. “He is a breath of fresh air for the archdiocese. We are happy to have him and this just reinforced that.”

Goodness had previously said rules specifically state the teams should be boys or girls only, and said St. John’s athletic director admitted he made an error in allowing the team to exist this way for four years.

In league rules obtained by NJ Advance Media, there is no mention of whether the teams in the St. John’s team’s division can or cannot be coed, though other divisions are mentioned as strictly boys or girls teams. The girls played with the boys team for the past four years because there were not enough interested girls their age to form a separate team.

On Monday, the team appeared on Good Morning America. The story has been shared in media outlets across the country and appeared in the Washington Post on Feb. 14.

WATCH: 5th grade basketball team, told they had to split up boys and girls, joins us to talk about their decision to stick together!

— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 13, 2017

Jessica Remo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JessicaRemoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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