Female participant numbers grow as Pa. officials wrestle with change
Part 5 of a series
At least six girls are members of wrestling teams in the 25 school districts that make up the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference (PHAC).
Eldon Hoy, chairman of PHAC wrestling and athletic director at Mifflinburg Area School District, said an email thread among members of the conference before the season started revealed which districts would have female participation in their junior high or varsity programs.
Of the 25, Hoy said the junior high teams at Shamokin Area, Williamsport Area, Milton Area and Warrior Run and the varsity teams at Mount Carmel Area and East Lycoming all have girls on their teams.
While located just outside the Heartland's territory, Line Mountain School District is locked in a federal court battle with the parents of a 12-year-old girl, Audriana Beattie, who is fighting to be part of Line Mountain's wrestling program.
A high school athletics participation survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations for the 2012-13 school year showed 8,727 female athletes out of 270,163 athletes nationally participated in school-sponsored wrestling programs.
In documents presented in federal court last month in support of the Beatties' case, the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club said wrestling is the fasting growing sport for women over the past 20 years, rising from 804 participants to 8,727, and female wrestling programs are established in 26 other states including Hawaii, Texas and Oregon.
Also, women began wrestling in the Olympics during the Athens games in 2004. Sara McMann, a Lock Haven University alumna, won a silver medal in those games.
In fact, female wrestlers are not unheard of even in the Line Mountain district. In January 2007, then-junior Lainey Martz, essentially on the team to take forfeits, wrestled a boy in her first real match - and pinned him in 47 seconds. Her victory helped the Eagles beat archrival Upper Dauphin to win the Tri-Valley League championship.
Martz declined to be interviewed for this series.
Also, Line Mountain hosted an all-girls wrestling tournament in 2008 in which Martz, Kimberly Spiegel of Selinsgrove Area, Ashley Buffington of Williams Valley, four other Line Mountain girls and seven additional girls from Halifax, North Schuylkill, Warrior Run and Jersey Shore participated.
Melissa Mertz, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association associate executive director, said the courts determined in 1975 that the PIAA could not prohibit girls from participating in boys sports or boys from participating in girls sports. Also, Title IX from 1972 states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," which includes athletic programs.
However, in early September, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson ruled the PIAA can adopt a policy that bans boys from girls' teams, essentially reversing the 40-year ruling that allowed boys to compete against girls under the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment.
Mertz said a survey of PIAA membership showed strong support of limiting boys on girls teams, but there has not been much discussion in limiting girls on boys teams.
The first reading of a policy was adopted last month, Mertz said, that would provide school districts with criteria when considering limiting boys:
- Is the counter-sport offered?
- Does the overall boys athletic program provide fewer opportunities for participation than girls?
- Does the boy's participation displace a girl on the team?
- Is there an overall competitive advantage that the teams gains?
"We are encouraging girls and boys to participate as much as possible," she said. "We are cognizant of the competitive advantage boys sometimes have and who may be replacing a girl on the bench."