The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 13, 2013

Motion to allow girl to wrestle fails

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

— MANDATA — Line Mountain’s decision to appeal a federal court’s injunction that allows a girl to register for the all-boy middle school wrestling team is a “distraction” and waste of taxpayer money, board member Lamont Masser said Tuesday night before motioning to allow the seventh-grader to join the squad.

But not one of the other eight school board members seconded his motion.

Brian and Angie Beattie, of Herndon, filed the federal lawsuit in Williamsport last month, claiming Line Mountain’s policy violated the civil rights of their daughter, Audriana, by preventing her from joining the squad.

Line Mountain’s rules prohibit boys and girls from being teammates in close contact sports because students of both genders have a “right to be protected from undesired contact of sensual body parts from a person of the opposite sex.”

U.S. Middle District Court Judge Matthew W. Brann last month issued an injunction that allows Audriana to join the team.

In briefs filed in federal court urging Brann to avoid a permanent injunction, school board president Troy Laudenslager and varsity wrestling coach Mike Martz said that allowing a female to practice with or compete against males increases the possibility of sexual harassment allegations.

Martz said he has serious concerns that any of his male wrestlers would want to have a female practice partner, and that he is not opposed to girls being part of the team if they have a female practice partner.

He is not comfortable with a girl on the squad because it may raise issues of sexual harassment, Martz said, and there is danger of a female being injured because her body characteristics are different than that of a male.

It would be difficult for a male to practice a move called the “buttdrag” on a female and vice-versa, Martz said.

Laudenslager, who has coached elementary and high school students, said in the briefing the continual, close physical contact involved in wrestling merits separation between males and females.

Brann signed an order Oct. 31 that prevented Line Mountain from taking action that would interfere with Audriana joining the team.

Audriana wrestled last year on a Line Mountain youth team against boys. Prior to that, she wrestled when her family lived in LeMars, Iowa.

Youth program not same, prez says

The youth wrestling program uses school facilities but is not sponsored by the district and has its own rules and regulations, Laudenslager said.

Line Mountain says it proposed that the Beatties gauge the interest of parents in forming a girls wrestling team, but instead the family filed the lawsuit.

“Students have the right to participate in wrestling as a public school activity without being forced to lower their moral standards and be subjected to sexual harassment as a requirement for participating,” Laudenslager wrote in his declaration.

Noting wrestlers continually push their face in their opponent’s chest to keep them off-balance, a male placing his face on a female’s chest during this technique causes serious issues to arise, Laudenslager said.

“Co-ed wrestling would not only provide an opportunity to illegally touch the sensual parts of the opposite sex, but an excuse,” he said.

“Wrestling with a person of the opposite sex, in the eyes of the law, could be considered groping, sexual harassment and potentially deviate sexual intercourse if the contact is unwelcomed or causes a sexual response for either person.”

Wrestling practice is available at a club where participation is voluntary, Laudenslager said.

In 2007, a girl was the manager for the Line Mountain boys wrestling team and was permitted to take forfeits when opponents did not have anyone at the 103-pound weight class, the district said. She did not practice with boys, it says.

Other concerns expressed in Line Mountain’s legal brief and exhibits reflect how Audriana could be supervised in the locker room because the middle school wrestling coach is a man.

Masser, the school board director, said he was not surprised his motion Tuesday night to allow Audriana to wrestle was met with silence.

“I kind of expected that,” Masser said after the meeting adjourned.

Masser tried to make the case that “the litigation surrounding our wrestling program” would have no positive effect for the school. “Regardless of the outcome, the only certainty is that we will spend our time, our administrators’ time, and the taxpayers’ money. All of which could be put to better use.

“We need to get our priorities in order,” Masser said. “This lawsuit is a distraction from our primary job of providing an education to the students of the Line Mountain School District.”

Superintendent David Campbell and Laudenslager shot back at Masser, noting that most of the board’s business is indeed about academics.

After the meeting, business manager Philip Rapant declined to identify what the legal cost to the district was in fighting the injunction.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 20 in U.S. Middle District Court in Williamsport.