Line Mtn. girl grappler takes stand
WILLIAMSPORT - Audrianna Beattie, the 12-year-old Line Mountain seventh-grade student who is fighting for a permanent spot on the all-male wrestling team, was confident Wednesday in federal court that gender shouldn't play a part in whether she's allowed to compete with boys.
"I'm on a boys team. It doesn't matter that I'm a girl, because I'm just as good as they are," she said Wednesday in Courtroom 3 at the Herman T. Schneebeli Federal Building and United States Courthouse, 240 W. Third St., in front of U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann.
It's been the only public testimony or statement the girl has given thus far.
A federal lawsuit was filed last month by her parents, Brian and Angie Beattie, against the school district that has barred her from wrestling, arguing the program is gender-specific and that allowing her to join opens the district to liability.
By keeping her off the team, her parents say the district is discriminating 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 (ERA) of the state constitution.
The Beatties were represented by Philadelphia attorneys Terry L. Fromson, of Women's Law Project, and Abbe F. Fletman, of Flaster/Greenberg PC, while the district was represented by attorneys Chris Conrad and Nicole Ehrhart, of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Camp Hill.
Audrianna was one of seven individuals who took the stand over a period of 5 1/2 hours.
Also testifying was her father, Brian; Line Mountain Superintendent Dave Campbell; school board President Troy Laudenslager; board members Lauren Hackenburg and Ron Neidig, who participated by phone, and middle school wrestling coach Darin Keim.
'Keeps me fit'
Audrianna, a straight-A student, said she also participates in soccer, softball and equestrian activities, but she pushes herself in wrestling because it's one of her passions.
"I like it because it keeps me fit," she said. She also said she enjoys the individual aspect of the game - winning or losing is all up to her.
"I've been bullied in the past, and (wrestling) helps me get over it," she said. "I can take my anger and use it, but not in a mean way, and do good."
Audrianna started wrestling in third grade. She 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, placing second, third and fourth.
After the Beattie family moved to Herndon in summer 2012, Audrianna attended the elementary school and 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. She finished the 2012-13 school year with a 5-3 record.
"In sixth grade, I did fairly well. I won some, I lost some. It's the way it goes, but it's not the end of the world," she said.
Some of the male students are stronger and can pick her up easily, but she noted she is hard to pin. If she realizes a male opponent is stronger, she wouldn't grapple with them. Instead, she would attempt to take them down and "boom, boom, boom" it would be over, she said.
Audrianna wanted to continue wrestling when she started seventh grade in the 2013-14 school year, but there is only a boys team.
'I did cry'
Neiding testified that he is concerned for Audrianna after watching a match last year in which a stronger male opponent who Laudenslager described as a "brute" beat her.
"It ended quickly. When the match was over, she was upset and looked to be in pain," Neidig said.
Asked about this match later during the hearing, Audrianna said it's normal for people who lose to be upset.
"I did cry. It's normal," she said. "I've seen a lot of boy's cry and throw a fit and throw their headgear on the ground. I wasn't hurt or in pain. It was just a matter of being emotional."
Fletman asked Neiding how many of Audrianna's matches he watched and he said at least one. She also asked him if he ever saw boys cry after matches; Neiding said yes.
It doesn't matter to Audrianna if she stays on the all-male team or participates on all-female team.
"I will wrestle a girl or a boy," she said.
However, if she only has one girl in her weight class with whom to practice - which district officials said they would prefer - she said it wouldn't help her grow as an athlete.
"You don't get as much experience or learn all the moves and techniques," she said. "If you're less experienced, you learn from the more experienced (people) you wrestle."
If the district keeps her off the team, Brian Beattie said it would be damaging to tell his daughter the district believes "she's not as good as boys, that there's some difference that makes her inferior."
The district's witnesses argued they would be willing to sponsor a girls team if there is any interest. There are also other options for Audrianna, such as the Bison Club at Bucknell University, and the district booster club would fund her participation, district witnesses said.
The district's witnesses reiterated the 65 pages of documents and statements in which they say they are protecting Audrianna and male athletes from potentially awkward situations and sexual contact during practices and matches, and the psychological scarring and inevitable injury and defeat of female wrestlers.
Neiding said he's concerned about the "lose-lose" situation with male athletes: if they win, they've beaten a girl; if they lose, they are harassed by their teammates for being beaten by a girl.
The wrestling moves are also inappropriate for girls and boys to practice together, he said.
Laudenslager said men don't develop breasts, and there are a lot of wrestling holds that focus around the chest.
"You're supposed to stick your face in the girl's chest. Anywhere else you would be suspended," he said.
As a coach demonstrating moves on students, he said they would have to ask themselves if they are expected to stick their faces in breasts. Coaches then have to wonder whether they lingered too long or shook their heads, he said.
Hackenburg said it would be difficult to teach that certain acts are not permitted during school hours but they are permitted behind closed doors on a wrestling mat.
"I don't think it's OK. I think it sends mixed messages," she said.
It's inconsistent to teach male students that it's fine to be aggressive and pin women down during a sport, she said.
Laudenslager said he has significant concerns with consideration to the anatomical differences of males and females; they should be treated separately.
In wrestling, athletes are categorized by weight class but also percentage of body fat, he said.
But, he added, girls genetically have different percentages of body fat than males in the same weight class.
Fletman asked Laudenslager if he is an expert on biology or whether he could cite a specific case study in a specific publication to support his views. Laudenslager said no.
Fletman asked each witness if male athletes ever touch intimate parts of other male athletes, and each said yes. She also asked if there are policies in place to punish male students who inappropriately touch female athletes during practice or vice versa, and each said yes.
Asked by her attorney if she was ever taught the difference between "good and bad touch," Audrianna said her parents and school teachers explained it and if she ever felt like someone was taking advantage of her during wrestling, she would push them away and go for help.
Laudenslager said it would be impossible to determine whether someone intentionally sexually harassed someone during wrestling because of how some of the moves look to spectators. He also said it would be difficult to determine if a male wrestler tried out for the sport for the sole purpose of harassing a female wrestler.
Plus, he said, it is the school district's job to prevent sexual harassment, not to just punish harassers.
Fletman also asked whether boys were at risk for injury and whether an individual girl could be as strong if not stronger than an individual boy, and the witnesses said yes.
Campbell said the administrators must act as parents when the students are in the school and it their job to foresee potential problems.
He wondered if male students should be punished if they or their parents are uncomfortable wrestling a girl.
The growth of female wrestling is a good thing, but he believes the differences between boys and girls should keep the genders separate, he said.
The judge said the transcript of the hearing will be completed Wednesday. The Beatties and their attorneys will have until Dec. 9 to file a conclusion with the court, and the district's deadline is one week later. The Beatties will then have an opportunity to respond to the district's conclusion, and a ruling by the court will follow at an undetermined date.
The Beatties and their attorneys declined comment following the court proceeding.
However, Campbell said, "If the judge rules in favor of the district, I can assure you, I will personally work with the Beatties to do anything to help Audrianna to reach her goals. If they rule in favor of the Beatties, we will honor it, and continue the process of girls and boys competing."
Brann ruled Nov. 1 that Audrianna is allowed to participate in the wrestling program until the suit is settled. Campbell said the district is following the order. Practices started Monday.