FIERRO: In PIAA wrestling, separation of church and state getting more difficult by hour
- Boys from Catholic schools in Pennsylvania aren't permitted to compete vs. girls.
- That rule recently became an issue during the PIAA Class 2-A Team Championships.
- Saucon Valley sent a girl out at 106 pounds. Notre Dame-Green Pond then forfeited.
- That forfeit was critical in Saucon Valley's one-point win over N.D.-Green Pond.
More than 20 years ago, neither Bethlehem Catholic nor the Allentown Diocese tried to stop diminutive soccer player Samantha Smith from potentially getting run over by a 250-pound rusher as the kicker for the Golden Hawks’ football team.
She had a strong leg, she was qualified, she was allowed to play in games.
Flash forward to the present, following an explosion of girls wrestling over the last decade, the Allentown Diocese and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference still won’t budge on its stance that their boys cannot wrestle girls. Doesn’t matter if they’re the same weight.
Perhaps if they were outfitted with shoulder pads and helmets?
Issue takes center stage at PIAA event: We bring this up again because the issue again took center stage at the PIAA 2-A team wrestling championships Saturday, when Saucon Valley sent Aaliyana Mateo out to the mat to accept a forfeit at 106 pounds and get six team points in a consolation semifinal the Panthers would win by one over Notre Dame-Green Pond.
Notre Dame features sophomore Evan Maag at that weight. He’s fourth in The Morning Call’s wrestling rankings. He would almost certainly have pinned Mateo, who has never wrestled a boy in a varsity match. That’s a 12-point swing right there.
It meant the Panthers came home with state medals for eventually finishing fourth, while their Colonial League rivals and league champs just had that near-miss to chew on like a piece of gristle.
Coach has to calm down: Notre Dame coach Matt Veres had to go somewhere to spit it out.
After speaking to his team briefly following the loss, Veres bolted from Hershey’s Giant Center, all but sprinted to his sport utility vehicle and appeared to drive away before circling back to sit by himself and decompress while waiting curbside for his team.
Veres did graciously roll down his window for an interview request but had no comment on the rule. At the same time, he said: “The 106 bout was pretty much the deciding factor in the match.”
It should be noted that Notre Dame draws wrestlers not just from multiple school districts but from multiple states, which means many wrestling fans, particularly those aligned with Saucon Valley, won’t be losing any sleep over how this all went down.
But this is not about taking sides.
Rule needs to be revisited: This is about a rule that needs revisiting before things spiral out of control as girls show up on more rosters across the state.
In the Lehigh Valley alone, the numbers are growing. In addition to Mateo in Saucon Valley’s program, Parkland has 12 girls in its room. Easton has four, East Stroudsburg North has three, including Avia Bibeau, who has earned seven victories against boys and four more wins by forfeit this season.
So long as the PIAA will not sanction girls wrestling as an official sport, girls will be allowed on non-Catholic boys’ rosters, and there’s nothing Catholic schools can do about it.
Not being consistent: Except to realize that perhaps they’re not being consistent on male-female issues when it comes to wrestling, which would expose girls to a lot less danger than female kickers in a sport with generally much bigger and stronger players.
Heck, technically they’re not even being consistent in wrestling itself. Catholic teams will not be prohibited in the individual portion of the postseason from allowing their boys to wrestle girls because there’s no control over what opponent may be next in the bracket.
With just a little common sense, a necessary step away from the Dark Ages and into the 21st century could be achieved. Catholic schools need to eliminate this policy after its effects were once again exposed by differing but equally valid viewpoints following Saturday’s events.
Saucon Valley response: Because while Veres was right about the forfeit at 106 deciding the match, so was his Saucon Valley counterpart, Chad Shirk, in his rebuttal to the perception that public schools are exploiting this rule.
“I don’t know what we’re taking advantage of,” Shirk said. "The sport of women’s wrestling is getting bigger and bigger by the year. They’re starting a college division with college programs and the sport is growing. So more girls are competing. So I don’t think it’s something that people are taking advantage of. If we wanted to take advantage of it, we would have thrown 14 girls out there.
“[Mateo] has been practicing since Day 1, so I don’t think that ‘taking advantage’ is the right term.”
Whatever you want to call it, it can’t continue.
Morning Call reporter Nick Fierro can be reached at 610-778-2243 or email@example.com.