House should reject regressive wrestling bill

The Minnesota House of Representatives – a body constituents expect to stride toward the future and move the state in a direction that ensures equal rights and opportunities for all – is considering doing just the opposite, at least as far as female high school athletes are concerned.

House bill H.F. 2437, which was passed by a voice vote Tuesday in the Education Policy Committee and will go to the House floor for vote, would repeal parts of existing state law that allow girls to participate in sports with boys if an equivalent is not offered for girls. Supporters of the bill introduced by Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, including coaches, mothers and male wrestlers, contend coed wrestling competition is unfair and inappropriate, citing the sport’s compromising holds and full-contact nature. As Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said in the Star Tribune, “If we saw these same things in the hallways of the school, we’d break them up and send someone to detention.”

This is true; however, if a teacher saw two boys in the hallway engaged in the same activity, the same would happen. The fact that some boys are not comfortable with close female contact is not for the state to resolve. These boys, their parents and coaches need to handle these issues personally and within their families.

As articulated by Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-Falcon Heights, a coed ban completely closes the door to female wrestlers. Statewide budget shortfalls and the fact that only approximately 26 Minnesota girls participate in wrestling would make it impossible for schools to offer a girls’ team. The low number of female participants should not discount their athleticism: In Erickson’s own hometown, a girl is captain of the youth wrestling team and has won three state tournaments and 95 percent of her matches.

This would be especially unfortunate in light of the success of women’s wrestling in Minnesota. The University’s Morris campus boasts one of the most successful women’s wrestling programs in the nation. So the precedent and proof of ability should be plain to anyone in the state who is familiar with the issue.

Opponents seek to derail the bill by attaching amendments that give decision-making power to the Minnesota State High School League, which has adamantly defended female athletes’ rights in past decisions.

Female rights have drastically evolved, and female access to management positions, all-male clubs and even voting has historically made many people uncomfortable. But sexism should be obsolete to modern state lawmaking bodies. State legislation allowing girls to wrestle boys was passed 21 years ago, and repealing it would essentially return the state to an era when gender equality was not recognized. High school girls should not have to fight for rights ensured by their mothers and grandmothers, and the state should encourage, not discourage, equal participation.