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Candace Workman doesn't look much like Cael Sanderson or Rulon Gardner, but like them, the 4-foot-11, 95-pound Vernal wrestling phenom wants to bring home the gold someday.

But the feisty 14-year-old - a reigning national champion - had to grapple with authorities just to get to the mat for a Spanish Fork tournament next month. She tag-teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union to win a spot in the 800-competitor meet after being denied entry because she's a girl.

"I want to go down there and show them I'm just as good as the boys," she said Thursday. "It was wrong of them to try and exclude me like that."

Last year, the Vernal Junior High student pinned top honors in the 13-year-old 95-pound class at the U.S. Girls Wrestling Association Championships in Michigan.

Nonetheless, Spanish Fork parks and recreation officials gave Candace's entry in the Dec. 4 tournament an initial thumbs-down because they received complaints when she competed in the event last year.

"Some boys dropped out because they were scheduled to wrestle her," said Dale Robinson, parks and recreation director.

Spanish Fork officials did place Candace in its new girls' division. But there weren't enough entrants to comprise a real tournament, said Candace's father, Jason Workman, who coaches part time at Vernal Junior High.

"I told them there are only three girls in the state who wrestle at the junior-high level," he said. "They said, 'Too bad. This is our policy and that's it.' "

Frustrated, Workman turned to the ACLU's Utah office. The organization took the case, said staff attorney Margaret Plane, because it was not the first time it had heard such a grievance.

In December 2003, the ACLU received a complaint from several girls who were barred from a Utah County wrestling tournament hosted by the Orem Grapplers.

Candace Workman's complaint "was not an isolated incident," Plane said.

Citing a trio of cases in which courts had struck down rules barring female wrestlers from squaring off against boys, Plane advised Spanish Fork that it could not discriminate against Candace unless it could show a "strong interest" for doing so.

"That's a tough standard to meet," Plane said. "The argument that we're protecting the female's safety doesn't ring as true in wrestling as it does in football, because there are weight classes in wrestling. She would be competing against boys her own size."

Although Spanish Fork has staged its December tournament for many years, this was its first attempt to schedule a girls' division, said City Attorney S. Junior Baker.

"It turned out there weren't enough girls," Baker said. "But in the future, if there are enough, we will have a girls' division."

In that event, Spanish Fork probably could keep Candace and other girls from wrestling boys, Plane said.

Candace continues to wrestle on the Vernal Junior High team, where she is one of two girls on the 65-member squad. Next year, as a ninth-grader, Candace will begin to practice with Uintah High School's wrestling team.

"I can't wait to get to the high school workouts," she said. "I have more fun wrestling boys. It's more competitive."

Candace points to Heber City's gold medalist Cael Sanderson as someone she emulates. "He's great. I got to meet him last year," she said. "I want to go to college on a wrestling scholarship and then I want to go to the Olympics."

Athens' 2004 Summer Games featured Olympic women's wrestling for the first time.