'I didn't feel like I belonged anymore,' Line Mountain girl wrestler says
HERNDON - Almost a year has passed since the Brian and Angie Beattie showed up at a Line Mountain School Board meeting last April, seeking answers as to whether their daughter, Audriana, would be allowed to participate on the district's all-male junior high wrestling team in her seventh-grade year.
A girls team was not available for Audriana, who had wrestled on the local youth team that was open to students through sixth grade, and the district's gender-specific policy prevented her from competing on the junior and senior high levels, the school board told the family.
The district's decision to keep her off the team spawned a federal lawsuit and a long legal battle. That fight all but ended Wednesday when U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann signed an order allowing Audriana, who turned 13 Feb. 11, and other female athletes to participate in the scholastic sports program of their choosing at Line Mountain regardless of their gender. His order was based on a consent decree the school board agreed to March 25.
For the Herndon family of three, it's a relief from a stressful 12 months.
"It's been hard on me. I didn't feel like I belonged anymore," Audriana said Wednesday by phone in the first public interview since her parents filed the lawsuit in federal court Oct. 28.
Her parents claimed the district's all-male wrestling program discriminated against girls on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
When the district announced last week it was no longer going to fight her participation, Audriana said she was glad she would be able to continue wrestling with her teammates - all boys right now who she said treated her with respect - in the coming years.
Not about winning, losing
A temporary and preliminary injunction granted by Brann allowed Audriana to participate on the team while the case continued in federal court. She wrestled the full season and come away with a record of 6-13.
For the Beattie family, it wasn't about individual victories on the wrestling mat.
"It isn't about winning or losing. It's about being allowed to wrestle," Brian Beattie said. "It's a relief it's done and over with, and we can focus on other things."
Audriana didn't wrestle any girls under the district's umbrella, but Audriana said she doesn't care about that.
"Boys are pretty strong," she admitted. "It's more of a challenge, but it's a good challenge. I can try to keep up and get good, and push myself harder."
The family said they didn't face any negative feedback from her teammates or the public.
"I'm very happy my daughter will be treated fairly. Being on the team is important to her and it's something that was the right thing to do," Brian Beattie said.
Wrestling for Line Mountain was the best option for Audriana, Angie Beattie said.
It's school-sponsored, close to home and her friends, more competitive and more practice hours, she said.
"She gets more out of wrestling for Line Mountain than she would get on other wrestling teams," she said.
"It was her right to do it. She should be able to do so if that's something that interests her," Angie Beattie said.
Brian said this experience has taught them all lessons.
"Don't be afraid to try," he said.
11-3 against girls
Away from the district in the independent circuit, Audriana has a record of 11-3 when she wrestled girls, and she found success by winning a state championship in her weight class last month at the third annual Pennsylvania Wrestling Federation (PAWF) girls 2014 state championship.
Audriana is now qualified to compete in PAWF's Northeast Region Kids Nationals Tournament May 3 at East Stroudsburg. Participation there advances her to the national tournament at Orem, Utah, June 24 to 26, against both male and female competitors.
She's also participated in Wrestle For Hope in Ohio, War of the Roses in Williamsport and tournaments in Warrior Run School District, Pottsville and New Jersey, Angie Beattie said.
Audriana will continue to wrestle in the off season with the Downtown Mat Club in Williamsport, and will participate in soccer and wrestling at Line Mountain in the fall, she said.
Having started wrestling in third grade, Audriana was a member of the wrestling club in LeMars, Iowa, in fourth and fifth grades where she practiced with boys and girls and competed against boys in approximately four tournaments per year, taking seconds, thirds and fourths in those tournaments.
After the Beattie family moved to Herndon in summer 2012, Audriana started attending the elementary school for the 2012-13 school year and she wrestled on the youth team that was open to elementary students through sixth grade. During this time, she practiced with boys and participated in every dual meet in at least five tournaments, competing against boys and a girl who was on the Shamokin Area School District team.
The Beatties attorneys Abbe F. Fletman, of Flaster/Greenberg PC, and Terry L. Fromson, of The Women's Law Project, released their own statement Wednesday.
"Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for young women; the school district's agreement to resolve this action both brings the school into compliance with the law and addresses girls' athletic interests," said Fromson.
As a competitive wrestler for more than four years, Fletman said, "We are pleased that she (Audriana) will be able to continue competing at Line Mountain."
The school board unanimously decided March 25 to stop fighting the lawsuit and allow Audriana to wrestle on the district's all-male wrestling team after months of legal battles between the school board and her parents.
The court has now approved the consent decree drafted by the district, which means other female students who want to wrestle competitively may join the team.
The school district has also rescinded its policy that kept girls off boys' teams and will not adopt any policy in the future that will unlawfully deny athletic opportunity on the basis of sex.
Still at stake is a battle over $140,682 worth of attorney fees the Beatties want the district to pay. The district has said the fees are excessive and redundant.
Brann has not yet ruled on that matter.