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Monson: It's long past time for chauvinistic and paranoid school officials to let girls compete

Published February 18, 2017 2:45 pm

Prep sports • This is an issue that should have been resolved long ago; let them — let everybody — compete
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It was 21 years ago that I interviewed a 17-year-old athlete named Blanca, who saw herself not as any kind of revolutionary, pioneer or a force for change, but rather a competitor who wanted a chance to test herself in the sport she loved: wrestling.

"It was my dream," she said.

There was one hangup, though: She was … well, you know, a girl.

And there were those who thought girls shouldn't be wrestling boys for reasons that, for them at least, were difficult to get past. The whole boy-girl body-contact thing troubled them, as did sanctioning the trauma that would arise not just in the macho world of wrestling, but in general school social circles, if a girl were to beat a boy on the mat.

Oh, the horror.

One of the same reasons is still in play, more than two decades later, in the cases of Kathleen Janis and Gabbi Serrao, who were written about this week in The Salt Lake Tribune. Janis and Serrao are students at Central Davis Junior High School who wanted to test their skills, wanted to compete on the mat, wanted to see what they could accomplish in the sport they love — only to be halted by a school district policy that prohibited middle school girls from wrestling against boys on account of officials' concerns over "inappropriate or sexual touching." One of the girls' parents filed a lawsuit that is ongoing, while, in the meantime, a judge ordered the girls to be allowed to go ahead and … ready, wrestle.

Old thought processes sometimes die hard, even stupid ones, but the sad idea that there remains a rule that girls are to be prevented from wrestling boys, are to be properly stopped from pursuing their athletic goals, because of body-contact issues is nothing short of ridiculous.

Yes, there are some wrestling moves where that contact is not just unavoidable but useful and encouraged. Still, are there really some holdout rational adults who are fearful that a boy — or a girl — is going to, out on the mat, in the middle of a match, cop a feel or inappropriately clutch body parts in any kind of sexual way? And then, use that as a reason to prevent girls from having the same opportunity that boys have to compete in a sport they love?

If there really are earnest fundamentalists who think that way, who don't want boys and girls fighting with and sweating on and grabbing at one another in the course of legitimate competition — and, apparently, those people exist — are they concerned at all about boys inappropriately grabbing boys? That's OK with them?

It's silly that such an argument needs to be made anymore: Girls of any age should be given the same chance to compete in any sport that boys of any age are given. We don't need to sort through all the certifiable benefits that have come to female athletes — and society, as a whole — by way of equal opportunity over the past few decades. Title IX isn't perfect, but it has helped millions of girls and women who, had they been born in earlier years, would have missed out on those chances for personal growth.

Fortunately, in most cases, the Neanderthalish days of adults separating boys into first-class gyms, wearing first-class uniforms, getting first-class coaching, having first-class athletic opportunities, while the girls were sent into second-class girls gyms, wearing second-class girls uniforms, getting second-class girls coaching, having second-class athletic opportunities are long gone.

As it should be. As it always should have been.

Any open-minded person can see the advantages and practicalities of there being girls teams and boys teams in as many sports as possible. In sports where there often are no girls teams — like football and wrestling — the girls should have every chance to compete. And for those eager to point out that there are sports, such as field hockey, in which girls dominate, and that boys also should be able to participate, OK, have your fun with that.

But remember, it was the girls who for so many generations were institutionally prevented from competing at a level that has so benefited them in a more enlightened here and now. It was the boys who were to take the field or the court or the diamond or the mat, and it was the girls who were encouraged to stand on the side, shaking pom-poms and cheering little Johnny on.

"I don't care what people think," was what Blanca said all those years ago, decked out in her singlet, preparing to step back onto the mat. "If they don't like it, I'm sorry. I'm not doing this to please other people. I'm doing it for me. I'm just an athlete who wants to go out for something, like anybody would."

Like anybody should.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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