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Cotey: Calvary Christian's hands-off wrestling policy full of holes

Berkeley Prep wrestler Taira Salahutdin practices with Jacob Rice on Monday. She advanced at districts by forfeit.

JOHN C. COTEY | Times

Berkeley Prep wrestler Taira Salahutdin practices with Jacob Rice on Monday. She advanced at districts by forfeit.

Taira Salahutdin was ready to wrestle.

Her opponent wasn't.

Whether it was his decision, or his parents', or an unwritten school rule that boys are not allowed to wrestle girls, Danny Rogers' season came to an end Friday when he forfeited at the district meet rather than meet Salahutdin.

Rogers was Calvary Christian's best wrestler, and now his season is over.

Salahutdin, she was at Berkeley Prep practice Monday getting ready for regionals.

It is not the first time a boy has forfeited instead of wrestling her.

It is the first time the boy didn't seem to have a choice or did so at such a crucial juncture in the season.

"Our philosophy at school is we don't think that boys should wrestle girls," said first-year Calvary Christian athletic director Greg Thiel.

Not a rule, per se. Nothing written down anywhere … yet.

Just a "philosophy."

"It's something we may put in the (student rule book) to let kids know we think it is inappropriate," said Thiel, a former track and field coach at USF for 16 seasons. (Indian Rocks Christian also does not let boys wrestle girls.)

While coach Jim McCann said that in years past these decisions were made by the athlete and his parents, Thiel says that before the district tournament he and the headmaster knew there was a girl in the tournament and decided on this philosophy of inappropriateness.

Seriously?

If a kid doesn't want to wrestle a girl for his own reasons, or his parents have an issue with it, don't wrestle.

It's a no-win situation. Beat her, and you just beat a girl. Lose, and you need to go into witness protection.

I've got no problem skipping that potential humiliation.

I'll even buy into a rule, as long as it's clearly written somewhere and your athletes know you will not let them compete against a girl come playoff time.

Until then, shouldn't that be the kid's choice?

News flash: girls wrestle.

Right or wrong, it's part of the deal.

In Tampa Bay, there's a handful, and statewide more than 350 girls competed last year.

In 2006, Alaska's Michaela Hutchison became the only girl to win a coed state title.

For the most part, though, they are just girls like Salahutdin, who played just about everything else but thought the sport looked interesting enough to try.

Salahutdin, 17, won a few matches. Lost a few more. Didn't even get the chance at some meets.

Kristen Ianuzzi remembers those days, when she was blazing a trail in Orlando, earning captain duties her senior year.

Now she's reviving the boys program at West Orange High, which was all but dead until she took over as head coach.

"I honestly cannot even fathom ruining my chance at regions just because I don't want to go up against girls," Ianuzzi said. "I mean, that's what you've been working all year for, right?"

Ianuzzi, an accomplished wrestler who competed nationally, remembers lots of guy forfeiting against her, but never because a school rule prohibited wrestling a girl.

She thinks such rules are "ignorant."

Which raises this question: If it's truly a girl vs. bigger, stronger boys thing (again, an acceptable argument), why not have the same rules against playing against football teams with females on them? Golf teams? Baseball teams?

Because if not, I'm having a hard time buying Thiel's explanation that this isn't no-slow-dancing-at-the-prom type decisionmaking.

Where most see two athletes tactically wrestling, maybe the folks at Calvary Christian see something a bit, uh, sexier.

"I guess there's that aspect," Berkeley Prep assistant Dominique Molina said, "but it's nothing you think about when you're out there."

Molina's brother is the only Buc to place at state twice. She picked up the sport because of him, wrestled for the Bucs, was a co-captain and now helps coach them. And she completely understands why a boy wouldn't want to wrestle a girl.

"I beat lots of guys, and a lot of them cried. It was terrible," she said. Once, she felt so bad she went over and apologized after reversing a sure defeat into a victorious pin.

Her coach, Al Blount, yelled at her not to do that again.

Ideally, girls would wrestle other girls in their own state series, like they do in Hawaii, Texas and Washington.

But the Florida High School Athletic Association isn't there — yet.

Until then, Salahutdin is ready to wrestle.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@sptimes.com.

Cotey: Calvary Christian's hands-off wrestling policy full of holes 02/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 8:46am]

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