Woman might sue if denied right to wrestle

Mike Wereschagin

Jennifer Wong, a University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman, might sue her school if it denies her the right to wrestle. According to University Men’s Athletics Director Mark Dienhart, the same could conceivably happen here.
Wisconsin has imposed its first-ever roster cap on men’s sports teams. The university claims this is a result of budget restrictions, but Wong’s attorney claimed it is a deliberate attempt to keep Wong off the wrestling team.
Victor Arellano, Wong’s attorney, has threatened to sue the university if the freshman does not make it onto the squad, claiming the cut would be a violation of Title IX — federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against women athletes.
William Donohue, associate University general counsel, said no one has ever filed a lawsuit against the University alleging coaches denied them a spot on a Gophers sports team because of their gender.
“We’ve had a pretty good record with Title IX,” Donohue said. “To my knowledge, nothing like (the Wong) situation has ever gotten to the level of a lawsuit here.”
However, four women soccer players at the University of Minnesota-Duluth sued the school in 1997, claiming male athletes received more funding and scholarship money.
A federal judge dismissed the case last February, citing the University’s decision to upgrade the soccer program and several other women’s sports teams.
Despite these upgrades, University athletics officials say it is possible that a similar lawsuit could challenge programs here.
Dienhart said all athletes, regardless of gender, face the possibility of being cut. This could lead to misinterpretation about the reasons for dismissal.
“It’s conceivable that this could happen here,” Dienhart said. “We have an overall goal of 375 for the total size of our men’s teams. Because of that, we do have to cut people.”
He went on to say that the same rules would apply to both male and female competitors in such a situation.
“It wouldn’t seem fair to apply different standards to athletes just based on their sex,” he said.
Vincent Sweeney, Wisconsin’s athletic director, said he intends to give every wrestler who tries out for a team a fair shake.
“(Wong) is an outstanding student and an accomplished wrestler,” Sweeney said. “She’ll try out with the rest of the team.
“If she makes it, she’s on the team. If not, then we’ll sit down with her and discuss her options. But right now, as far as we’re concerned, she’s just another person trying out for and working out with the team.”
Wong wrestled on her high school team in Woodbury, Minn., and placed sixth at the Junior Women’s World Championships in the 119-pound class last year. She claims Wisconsin wrestling coaches promised her a spot on the team before she enrolled.
As the University men’s athletic director and father of three daughters, Dienhart said he can empathize with both sides of the debate.
“You need to give equal opportunities to women without destroying what the male athletes already have,” he said.
One of the primary requisites for this is adequate funding and support. “You can’t have gender equity without adequate resources,” he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.