Part 3 of 4

SELINSGROVE - The idea of Kimberly Spiegel being a member of Selinsgrove Area School District's wrestling team didn't ruffle a lot of feathers.

The 2011 graduate and former Port Trevorton resident was not the only girl on the team, and she was certainly not the first to blaze a path for female athletes in the Snyder County school district.

Still, after her freshman year when a second female wrestler graduated, it was Spiegel against the world of boys.

Spiegel, now 20 and a junior at West Chester University, was asked what her reaction would be if she was told she wasn't allowed to be on the team because of her gender, as Line Mountain School District officials have told 12-year-old Audriana Beattie. She laughed with a sense of action and determination, as if she was already preparing for the hypothetical fight.

"I'm one of those people who does what she wants. I would keep coming in that room and find a way," she said. "I won't take no for an answer."

Her father, Paul, has seen that determination. After being told she wasn't allowed to wrestle since there wasn't a girls team, Kimberly was persistent. She presented her dad with articles and research on the growing number of female wrestlers.

"His own words bit him in the butt," she recalled. "He would tell us: 'You can be anything you want to be.' He laughs about that now," she said.

Wrestling has taken Spiegel all over the world, from Canada to South America, from Switzerland to the Czech Republic. And it has earned her many gold and silver medals in state, national and other tournaments where she wrestled girls in high school and college.

She trained in her senior year at the the United State Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich., but she transferred right before the end of the school year because she said it was important that she graduate from her home school district.

At the training center, she received a high school education and trained in a strict program for women's freestyle wrestling. Living on campus, she trained with college girls and practiced 10 times a week.

While she's still active in wrestling in college, Spiegel said it has become more of an extracurricular activity as she focuses on law school.

Flexibility helped

Spiegel said she never sensed any opposition from coaches, school board members, administration or team members at Selinsgrove. She can only recall a few malicious comments from her peers.

"This one group of girls would call me a man. Honey, I wrestle boys in singlets," she said. "I would turn and walk away, because nothing affected me. I have several national titles under my belt. What did they have?"

Wrestling in the 160-pound weight class, Spiegel said she rarely won against her male competitors, but they were always "extremely respectful."

Boys were often stronger than her, but Spiegel said she was hard to pin because of the flexibility inherent in girls.

"I think I would have been able to beat the guys at junior high and high school, but I was still learning a lot. I was wrestling guys on varsity who had been wrestling since elementary school," she said.

Spiegel acknowledged she may have once regretted the losses while in high school, but she has a different perspective now.

"Every loss I ever had, I learned something from it, even if it was a stupid mistake," she said. "It prepared me to win some of these national tournaments against the girls."

Despite some of the disadvantages, she said, "I didn't take losses lightly. I came back the next day and worked even harder."

When she faced other female opponents, she would often win, having gained from her experience of wrestling boys.

It's 'ignorance'

Spiegel has been following Beattie's story and her parents lawsuit in federal court, in which they said Line Mountain is unconstitutionally discriminating on the basis of sex.

The district argues the wrestling program is gender-specific and that allowing Audriana to join opens the district to liability. It says they are protecting Audriana 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.

To which Spiegel says, "Ignorance."

Prompted to elaborate, she adds: "You don't think about gender when you're out there. You're going to come across people who are stronger than you; you're going to come across people you're stronger than."

Some of the best male wrestlers in the country have cried when they lost, she noted in response to the contention that girls will suffer humiliation in defeat.

"It's happens. It's heart-breaking," she said.

Besides, she said, there's a difference between an almost guaranteed loss and not being ready.

"All my coaches had an opportunity to say you're not going to wrestle because you're going to lose. Instead they believed in me," she said. "If I had no clue what I was doing, that's when you get hurt."

Coaches should always make wrestlers sit out if they don't know what they're doing, but not if they're afraid they're going to lose, she said.

Asked if she had any advice for Audriana, she said, "Remember why you love it. There are people who do support you. There's always a way."

Court briefs

As for the Beatties' suit, a hearing was held Nov. 20 in federal court in Williamsport at which seven witness, including Audriana, took the stand to testify over a period of 5 1/2 hours. The Beatties' final brief was filed last Monday and the district's final brief was due Monday. U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann expects to rule later this month.

Brann had 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.