Girl Grapplers: Former Vike wrestler says girl wrestlers 'not a big deal'

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REINERTON - Former Williams Valley School District wrestler Ashley (Buffington) Keiter recalls a story from her high school days, when one of her teachers refused to be present when Keiter wrestled the educator's son.

The teacher, who loved to watch her child participate in the program, would leave the gymnasium when Keiter and the boy grappled on the mat because she didn't approve of girls wrestling with boys, Keiter said.

One day, the teacher's husband convinced her to stay, and the subsequent match between the two wrestlers of opposite gender changed her mind.

"She realized it wasn't a big deal," said Keiter, 23.

That particular attitude of "not a big deal" pretty much sums up Keiter's experience of being the lone female athlete on the male-dominated wrestling team.

Excluding a handful of disgruntled parents and boys forfeiting against her, Keiter said she wasn't ridiculed by anyone for wanting to participate, her team members and opponents were respectful of her and the school administration never told her she wasn't allowed to be on the junior or senior high team.

LM lawsuit

In Line Mountain School District, officials have told 12-year-old Audriana Beattie she's not allowed to wrestle on the boys team and her parents Brian and Angie Beattie have taken the matter to federal court, saying the district is discriminating on the basis of sex in violation of equal protection and rights under the national and state constitutions.

The district argues that the pre-teen can't join the team because the wrestling program is gender-specific and that allowing her to join opens the district to liability. District officials say they are protecting Audriana and male athletes from potentially awkward situations and sexual contact during practices and matches and the psychological scarring and inevitable injury and defeat of female wrestlers.

Coach: Stick with it

Keiter started wrestling in third grade after seeing her two older brothers in the sport and thinking it looked like fun. When she asked if she could sign up, her parents and the coaches were supportive.

By fifth grade, the high school coach approached her and asked her to stick with it, she said. By seventh grade, when the wrestling team was a school sponsored team sport, she was allowed on the team with no problems.

While she admitted she wasn't a great wrestler when she started, Keiter started placing at middle and high school tournaments and, in 2008, ranked 12th at 139 pounds in the United States Girls Wrestling Association national championship tournament.

As the only girl on a team of 15 boys and the only ninth-grader on the junior high team, she sometimes practiced and wrestled with the older boys, yet she was just another wrestler.

"I probably know most of my opponents personally. I got to be friends with a lot of them. Nothing inappropriate ever happened," she said.

Skill over strength

Keiter said wrestling boys who were physically stronger than her simply made her a better technical wrestler.

"Being able to do the moves and having a good technique helped me more than strength. I didn't have the strength, so I had to beat them with skill," she said.

Keiter, who lives in Reinerton with her husband, Michael, didn't pursue wrestling in college and instead graduated from nursing school.

Keiter has been following Audriana Beattie's situation. A hearing was held Nov. 20 in Williamsport at which seven witnesses, including Audriana, took the stand to testify over a period of 5 1/2 hours. U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann won't be ready to rule until later this month.

"They should let her do it. She just wants to do something she loves," Keiter said.

She said it "baffles" her that Line Mountain won't support Audriana even though they hosted a female wrestling tournament in 2008, in which Keiter participated.

Brann had ruled Nov. 1 that Audriana is allowed to participate in the wrestling program until the suit is settled, and the district is honoring that order.

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