Final in a series

COAL TOWNSHIP - Shamokin Area seventh-grader Rebekah Faust is used to holding her own against guys. The 12-year-old is the only girl on the junior high wrestling and football teams and has an older brother who likes giving her a hard time.

"She and her brother played together most of their lives," said her mother, Holly. "She was toughened up by him."

"It pushed me to prove to him that I can actually do this, that he's not the only person who can do a real sport," Rebekah added.

But proving a point to her brother is not the main reason she chose to participate in wrestling and football. Instead, she likes the physicality of wrestling and she's always loved football, so much so that girls in fifth grade were annoyed by how much she talked about it.

Wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey following a practice Wednesday night, Rebekah said she dreams of one day playing in the National Football League or wrestling in the summer Olympics.

"When I was in high school, the women in that generation fought for the women in this generation to be able to do this," her mom said. "We fought so these kids wouldn't have to."

The Fausts, including father Ivan Jr., live in Paxinos.

A friend's situation

Rebekah might not have had to battle Shamokin Area's school board to secure a place on her district's team, but in the neighboring district of Line Mountain, officials have told 12-year-old Audriana Beattie she's not allowed to wrestle because of her gender.

Her parents, Brian and Angie, have taken the matter to federal court, saying the district is discriminating on the basis of sex in violation of her constitutional rights. A judge is expected to rule later this month and, in the interim, the district has been ordered to allow Audriana to wrestle with the junior high team.

The whole situation with Audriana, who Rebekah wrestled several times last year and considers a friend, is "frustrating." She's confident the judge will rule in the Beatties' favor.

Athletic family

This is Rebekah's second year in both wrestling and football, but the first year in school-sponsored programs. She was originally a cheerleader, but she wasn't comfortable in that activity.

Eighth-grader Michael Faust, Rebekah's 14-year-old brother, is a "natural-born athlete." He wrestles at 185 pounds and plays fullback, defensive lineman and punter in football, his mother said.

Their youngest sibling, 10-year-old Diana, is a swimmer, but Holly said she would likely be on the field and mat if not for a traumatic brain injury she sustained when she was younger.

'It's fun'

Holly Faust, who was also a football player in her youth, was an assistant coach for the Shamokin Youth Football League and booster president, so she had no problem with her daughter joining the football team. Rebekah played offensive and defensive tackle.

Holly told one of the bigger boys tackle Rebekah at full force so the girl would be aware of how hard some of the guys can hit.

"It tickled," Rebekah said.

Holly was confident her daughter could handle football.

"I've seen the way she handles herself in certain situations. I didn't have any concern," Holly Faust said.

However, when it came to wrestling, Rebekah's parents were hesitant.

"Wrestling was a bit more iffy. It's a more hands-on and a touchy-feely sport," Holly Faust said. "But I thought it would help her in football to have better body awareness and be lighter on her feet."

Holly Faust said her daughter is treated "like any of the boys."

Rebekah has been told by some of her friends they're worried she'll get hurt and by others that she won't be able to do it.

Mostly, she said she walks away from such negativity, but she is often thinking they're either jealous or don't understand.

"I just like doing it. It's fun," she said.

Rebekah is wrestling at the 165-pound weight class this year and had her first match of the year Thursday; however, she didn't see action.

Last year, she took second in several novice tournaments, Holly Faust said.

"She lost a lot, but she doesn't care. She just wants to do it and get better. The losses are what makes her better," she said.

Not uncommon

Rick Kashner, athletic director at Shamokin Area, said he has seen female athletes on the wrestling teams each of his five years at the district.

"It's not a foreign or uncommon thing," he said.

Making accommodations, such as separate locker rooms or weigh-ins, is "not that difficult," he said.

Girls on the football team are less common, he said. Holly Faust said she was "shocked" by how accepting and willing the coaches and school officials were in accommodating her daughter. They even gave Rebekah the option of wearing a skirt to an away game instead of dress pants like the boys have to wear, but she wasn't having any of that.

"No. 1, I don't want guys to see me in a skirt. No. 2, I just don't like wearing skirts," Rebekah said.