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Choices and Consequences

Rose Court: The tournament is right to bar teenage mothers.

October 04, 1998|KAREN GRIGSBY BATES | Karen Grigsby Bates is a regular contributor to this page

Sixteen-year-old Lynn Spurlock is pretty, poised, well-spoken and a good student--all qualities that would make her an attractive candidate for the Tournament of Roses' prestigious Rose Court. Except there's one teensy, little problem with her potential candidacy: Lynn Spurlock is the mother of 11-month-old Destini. And that has shut the door on her Rose Court aspirations.

The tournament has declined her application, citing worries that she won't have the time to devote to the strenuous schedule a princess in the Rose Court must keep. But that explanation is disingenuous. The real, unspoken reason is this: The governors of the tournament feel that a teenage mother, married or not, is an inappropriate choice for the court. And they're right.

Thirty years ago, the girls who were rose royalty were, in all likelihood, uniformly white, Christian and from privileged or socially prominent backgrounds. Little girls named Blanca and Keisha and Mai Ling might have gasped at the float as it passed by and waved, awestruck, at the milk-skinned girls who smiled down at the crowds, but they probably didn't expect that they could be on the court. Today, the Rose Court looks like contemporary Southern California: Girls of all colors and backgrounds compete every year. They may have different backgrounds and dreams, but some things remain the same; for the Rose Court, the presumption of virginity is one of them. And that's not such a bad thing.

I say "presumption" because anyone who reads the paper or watches daytime TV knows that adolescents are, indeed, having sex. Even nice girls and boys. And heartbreakingly often, adolescent sex results in adolescent pregnancy. Even for nice girls.

Which Lynn Spurlock apparently is. She argues that her grades are good, her boyfriend, Destini's father, has expressed a willingness to "be there" for his daughter and her parents are willing to pitch in. She's a good role model, she explains earnestly, because she's stayed in school and been serious about her work while raising her child.

Supportive parents and a boyfriend who is willing to keep his child so she can attend the myriad Rose Court engagements address the logistical necessities of Rose Court service, but not the underlying philosophical one: Sometimes the choice we make in one instance precludes the opportunities we might have in another. The choice to become sexually active has consequences, and one of the consequences is that because the wonders and pleasures of parenthood are now open to them, the wonders and pleasures of other experiences may be closed.

The Rose Bowl requirements should stay as they are. When the Rose Court floats by, little girls who fantasize about wearing the glittering tiaras should look in awe and vow to try out for Rose Queen one day. And remember, when they're older, that saying "no" to sexual pressures of the moment might result in a "yes" that is of more lasting importance to them later.

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