Female MCA grappler 'can handle pain,' thinks girls deserve chance
Part 1 of 4
MOUNT CARMEL - When Emily Emburg had her birth name tattooed on her right arm, she said it tickled.
When she's wrestling on the Mount Carmel Area team, her mother said, it looks like she feels no pain.
The 16-year-old Mount Carmel Area girl has a firecracker personality bottled inside her small stature. It has to be that way. At 4 feet 11 inches tall and 140 pounds, she's the only girl on the district's boys varsity wrestling team - and she wouldn't want it any other way.
"Wrestling boys is more of a challenge. Girls sports are not really a challenge, and I like challenges," the sophomore said during an interview at her South Vine Street home.
Beating a girl might mean she's the best girl, but beating a boy might mean she's the best overall, she said.
Her mother, Kate, agrees.
They acknowledge boys typically have more muscle mass and girls typically have more body fat, meaning it's usually easier for the boy to score a pin over a girl.
"If you understand that and you're not going to whine about it, and you're not expecting special treatment, then you should still be allowed to enjoy the sport and do the best you can," Kate Emburg said.
Wrestling at the 140-pound weight class is a lot of work that leads to many sore nights, and the boys aren't taking it easy on Emily - not that she would want that.
"I can handle pain," she said.
'Stupid and ridiculous'
While Mount Carmel Area has allowed the teen to wrestle, that's not the case at Line Mountain.
School officials there are locked in a federal lawsuit with Brian and Angie Beattie over whether their 12-year-old daughter, Audriana, can wrestle on the district's all-male team.
Line Mountain argues that the pre-teen can't join because the wrestling program is gender-specific and that allowing her to wrestle opens the district to liability. It says they are protecting Audriana and male athletes from potentially awkward situations, sexual contact and potential sexual harassment during practices and matches, and the psychological scarring and "inevitable" injury and defeat of female wrestlers.
Her parents said the district is discriminating on the basis of sex in violation of equal protection and rights under the federal and state constitutions.
Emily Emburg said the situation is "stupid and ridiculous."
"It doesn't make any sense. They're saying she'll get hurt. If she gets hurt, she gets hurt. If she can't take it, then she should quit. But I think they should give her a try. Mount Carmel gave me a try," she said.
Following the same logic, Kate said boys who might get hurt or could be sexually assaulted by team members, coaches or opponents should also be kept off the team.
If someone is not strong enough or is uncomfortable, they won't stick around, she said.
"Why spend all that money and make a fuss and embarrass a little girl who just wants to try out for a sport?" Kate said.
Tenacious, on and off the mat
Emily, adopted by Kate at age 6, moved with her mother and two siblings from California to Mount Carmel in 2008. From sixth grade until her current sophomore year, she also participated in cheerleading and swimming, but it was wrestling that kept her attention. When she had to skip wrestling last year due to low grades, Kate said other district parents who enjoyed her matches asked why she wasn't on the team.
Kate likes to watch her daughter on the mat.
"It's as if she feels no pain. She would keep going no matter what anyone did to her," she said. "No matter if they were sitting on her, she could squirm. She's a really feisty girl."
Emily's grades were back up this year and so she joined the team again.
"Academics have not always come easy for her," Kate said. "She always dug in and fought. She always had to work twice as hard to get C's as some of my other kids did to get A's. But she still kept trying. She brings that same attitude to wrestling."
Her mother said when Emily's frustrated, she "needs to channel that energy into competition."
No complaints from AD
Mount Carmel Area Athletic Director Greg Sacavage said what Emily is doing is not always easy.
"Emily has chose this sport and she has chosen the positives and the detriments of the sports. She's on the team because she wants to be and not because someone forced her," he said.
The district follows the rules of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), which allows girls or boys to participate in sports of the opposite gender when there are no teams in that particular sport for their gender, he said.
The district could have its own policies, but any such team would not be allowed to compete in PIAA-sponsored events, he said.
Emily is separated during weigh-ins and changing, but Sacavage said it's an easy problem to overcome.
"I have no complaints against her whatsoever. She's a good girl, a solid student at the high school. I have not perceived any problems," Sacavage said.
The situation, while unusual in the district, is not volatile, said Superintendent Bernard Stellar.
Emily has lost some and won some - in eighth grade she pinned an opponent in 22 seconds - but otherwise, she's your average grappler.
"Emily is just another person on the wrestling team. She not Miss Superstar," Kate said.
But, she said, "To be a success at something you want to do, you don't have to be No. 1 all the time. You can enjoy what you're doing and it doesn't matter whether you're a guy or a girl if that's where your heart is."
Emily agreed, and repeated her mother's advice when asked if she had anything to say to Audriana.
"She should follow her heart and her dreams and not quit," she said.
The school district shouldn't tell Audriana she can't do it and the Beatties should keep fighting, she said.
"She should stand up and said 'Give me a chance. You don't know. You could be surprised at what I could do.'"
A hearing was held Nov. 20 in Williamsport at which seven witnesses, including Audriana, took the stand to testify over 5 1/2 hours. U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann won't be ready to rule until later this month.
Brann ruled Nov. 1 that Audriana is allowed to participate in the wrestling program until the suit is settled, and the district is honoring that order.