Pennsylvania girls wrestling bid suffers a takedown

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A federal judge has closed the door to the possibility of a statewide girls' scholastic wrestling league.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, denied the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club's bid to intervene in a civil rights action filed by a junior high student who is barred from joining her school's all-boys wrestling team.

The 12-year-old sued the Line Mountain School District in Northumberland County last month after the school board denied her request to amend its policy prohibiting girls from joining boys' contact-sports teams.

She and her parents are now challenging that policy under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the federal Civil Rights Act as well as the Equal Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

This month, the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club, a nonprofit organization that hosts amateur tournaments, asked to intervene in the case, intending to pull the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association into the case and compel the state to create a girls' wrestling league.

"It appears to this court that the [club] is attempting to use the underlying narrow dispute between the parties as a cause celebre to acquire relief that is substantially more expansive and significantly different than that which the plaintiff seeks," Judge Brann said in his opinion denying the club's motion to intervene, issued last Wednesday.

The wrestling club is considering a suit of its own against the PIAA, said the club's chairman, Peter J. Wirs. It is likely to file in the Middle District of Pennsylvania within 30 days, he said.

Neither party in A.B. v. Line Mountain School District supported the club's entry into the case, the judge said. A.B stands for Audrianna Beattie, the seventh-grader at the center of the dispute.

The club asked the court to let it intervene as a matter of right, claiming it has "an interest both in protecting A.B. from injury resulting from wrestling with boys that may derail her potential future Olympic career, [as] well as a statutory duty given the structure of its organization to 'protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete [to] participate in amateur athletic competition.' "

However, in order to intervene in a case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit established four requirements for the club to satisfy, the most important for this case being the club's sufficiency of interest in the litigation, Judge Brann said.

"The [club's] 'interest' in the litigation is not sufficiently specific, definite, or direct to warrant intervention as of right in this case," Judge Brann decided, explaining that the club "bases its request partly on the general notion that it has an interest in the wrestling skills of A.B." and its hope to protect her from possible injury.

"This interest is substantially more remote than direct, and is not 'a significantly protectable interest,' " Judge Brann said, adding that he's unsure if the club would even have standing, given its remote relationship to the potential injury.

The club's lawyer, Lawrence Otter, recognized that hurdle, saying, "One of the problems here is getting standing" in a new case.

The issue of allowing girls on the mat is one that should be handled on a statewide level, rather than piecemeal, district by district, Mr. Otter said.

In this case, Audrianna Beattie is seeking an injunction so that she can practice with the team and participate in matches that are slated to begin in early December, according to her brief in support of a preliminary injunction.


Saranac Hale Spencer: sspencer@alm.com or 215-557-2449. Read more stories like this at www.legalintelligencer.com.

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