Coed Wrestling 'Morality' no Issue for Judge
(CN) - A Pennsylvania school district must let a girl try out for the boys' wrestling team, despite the supposed "moral wrongness" of coed wrestling, a federal judge ruled.
Brian and Angie Beattie sued the Line Mountain School District in October on behalf of their daughter, A.B., who has wrestled competitively against boys and girls since the third grade.
Though A.B. wrestled for Line Mountain Elementary in Herndon, Pa., from 2012 to 2013, the district refused to let her try out for the seventh grade team this fall, the complaint states.
Though the district lacks either a middle or high school girls' wrestling team, Coach Darin Keim allegedly said that policy prohibits female students from joining the boys' team.
A.B.'s father challenged the policy under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Since the policy purportedly relies on "the physiological differences between male and female athletes," the district repeatedly denied the Beatties' requests, the complaint states.
The district later claimed that the policy also seeks to protect girls from unwanted sexual contact and harassment, though inappropriate touching could occur just as easily between boys. It also said it is "concerned with the potential lowering of students' inhibitions, desensitizing them and possibly impacting moral standards" of sports players.
A.B. meanwhile testified that she "had been taught the difference between good touching and bad touching," and knew to "go get help" if someone touched her inappropriately.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann refused to let Pennsylvania Wrestling Club intervene on Nov. 20, finding that its "interest" to protect A.B.'s potential future Olympic career is "adequately represented by an existing party in the litigation."
On Monday, he granted the Beatties a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, holding that the policy is both under- and overinclusive.
"It is underinclusive because boys, some of whom may be weaker than some girls when considered on an individual rather than abstract level, are allowed to wrestle while their safety may be equally or more at risk than A.B. or other capable girls," Brann wrote.
Later he added that "The policy is also overinclusive, because it prevents females, including A.B., from wrestling when they may be equally as strong as or stronger than some boys on an individual basis."
The district also failed to show that girls are at a greater risk of unwanted sexual attention than boys, the ruling states.
"The school district could not articulate any specific instances of males inappropriately touching females while participating in wrestling, and offered no examples where a female complained of this behavior," Brann wrote. "Moreover, A.B. demonstrated that she did not experience any difficulties with inappropriate touching in her past wrestling experience, albeit at a younger age."
Brann was similarly unimpressed with a school board member's claim that "a certain moral wrongness" exists within coed wrestling, since "it's inconsistent with what's being taught in homes."
Besides these and other "unsupported conclusory statements concerning the perceived moral opprobrium of coeducational wrestling, the school district offers no evidence that these concerns rise to the level of an important government interest," according to the ruling.
The judge ultimately concluded that A.B. needs injunctive relief to avoid "irreparable harm in her development as a wrestler because she would miss opportunities to practice and compete."
"There are no available opportunities to participate in the sport that are of the same frequency and quality as those accompanying the school district's wrestling program," Brann continued. "These missed opportunities would cause A.B. to fall behind in her athletic development and prevent her from competing to her fullest potential in the future, including pursuing her aspirations at the collegiate level."