Parents of girl forbidden from wrestling team takes matter to federal court
WILLIAMSPORT - The parents of a seventh-grade Line Mountain girl who was denied participation on the junior high wrestling team because of her gender is taking the matter to federal court.
Brian and Angie Beattie, parents of Audrianna Beattie, filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of their daughter.
The Herndon family was told by the school board in April that Audrianna, who was referred to only as A.B. in the federal court documents, was not permitted to join the wrestling program because it's gender-specific.
The Beatties say the school board is discriminating against the girl 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 state constitution.
By denying the girl participation, they said she will miss opportunities to practice and compete, which would cause her to fall behind in her development as a wrestler and prevent her from being able to compete in the future.
"Being denied the opportunity to wrestle on the Line Mountain team will be a personal loss to participate in a sport about which A.B. is passionate and in which she is driven to participate," they said.
Practices for the 2013-14 wrestling season start in early November and competitions start in early December. Students must sign up by Nov. 5 and wrestling physicals are scheduled at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 8.
The family is represented by Philadelphia attorneys Terry L. Fromson, of Women's Law Project, Philadelphia, and Abbe F. Fletman, of Flaster/Greenberg PC.
Female once before
Line Mountain allowed a female student to participate in the wrestling program once before. Lainey Martz, a Line Mountain junior at the time, not only wrestled in a match for the Eagles, but pinned an opponent at 103 pounds in a 35-34 win over Upper Dauphin which gave the Eagles the Tri-Valley League championship that year.
In May, Superintendent Dave Campbell said he was not with the district at the time, but the incident was in violation of an already existing school policy.
From his understanding, he said Martz was carried on the team for forfeits.
Campbell was unable to be reached Tuesday evening for new comments, but he previously said the concept of gender-specific teams has been upheld in federal court.
In a 1993 decision by the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, in which a couple sued the Bethlehem School District to force the district to include their son on Bethlehem Liberty's girls field hockey team. In that case, the plaintiff won their case in district court. The school district appealed and the federal court found that, although field hockey was not considered "a contact sport," by its official rules, in reality it was, and reversed the lower court's decision.
According to court documents, Audrianna is a straight-A student and year-round athlete who participates in soccer, softball, wrestling and equestrian activities.
Having 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, taking seconds, thirds and fourths in those tournaments.
After the Beattie family moved to Herndon in summer 2012, Audrianna 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.
Audrianna wanted to continue wrestling when she started seventh grade in the 2013-14 school year, but there is only a boys team.
In February 2012, Angie Beattie asked middle school wrestling coach Darin Keim if her daughter could participate. Keim told her that he, personally, had no problem with it, but the school board would have to change the policy which prohibited girls on the team that was adopted July 26, 2005, according to court documents.
The policy reads:
"The purpose of this policy is to address the following:
1. The physiological differences between male and female athletes.
2. The practice of the Line Mountain School District of maintaining interscholastic athletic teams for both males and females in all sports other than contact sports.
"Due to the fact that the physical size, speed and power of male athletes could create a competitive disadvantage and a hazard to the health and safety of female students, the Line Mountain School District prohibits male participation on female varsity, junior varsity and junior high interscholastic athletic teams, except when any such team is specifically designated a co-ed team by the administration, with the formal approval of the School Board."
The Beattie family said Line Mountain School District wrestlers in the past have and will in the future compete against female wrestlers, including a Halifax High School senior during the 2012-13 school year and an Upper Dauphin Middle School student during the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
Brian Beattie attended a school board meeting in March to request the board to review the policy, and then returned twice in April where the school board members decided they would not allow Audrianna to participate.
Although President Troy Laudenslager did not return a phone call requesting comment Tuesday evening, he told the Beattie family in April there could be potential objection by parents and boys on the team and competing teams would be uncomfortable or forced to forfeit.
Beattie threatened legal action at that time.
On Oct. 15, The family's attorneys sent a letter to district solicitor Richard Roberts requesting the board change the policy by Oct. 22, but Roberts, in a telephoned response Oct. 23, said the board was standing by their decision.
The Beatties are asking a federal judge to declare the actions of the district violate state and federal laws and to force Line Mountain to allow Audrianna the opportunity to participate and compete in the wrestling program on the same basis, benefits and treatment as the male students.
They are also asking the judge to stop the district from potentially retaliating against their daughter.
Additionally, they want the judge to stop the district from discriminating on the basis of sex in athletic opportunities for all female students.
The district has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit.