ST. PAUL (AP) -- Legislators grappled with a touchy issue Tuesday as a House committee approved a bill that would keep girls and boys from squaring off in high school wrestling matches.
The House Education Policy Committee sent a bill to the floor that would outlaw mixed-sex wrestling teams. The debate pits a desire for gender equity in sports against concerns over close physical contact among wrestlers of the opposite sex.
The divided voice vote followed testimony from students, coaches and parents, and after two boys from the Burnsville High School wrestling team demonstrated a fireman's carry, a high-crotch takedown and a half-nelson -- moves requiring touching that would be considered inappropriate off the mat.
Ian Stoneberg, one of the wrestlers, recalled his match with a girl when he was a freshman.
"It was very awkward for me," he said. "I felt bad after the match."
It's uncomfortable for some girls, too. Elizabeth Maxwell, a freshman at Trinity School at River Ridge in Bloomington, said she would go out for a girls-only team but is not about to get on the mat with a boy.
"They touch the chest areas and the crotch areas," she told legislators. "If you had a daughter, you wouldn't want your daughter out there."
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, is the bill's sponsor. She has supporters on both sides of the political aisle, including Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.
Marquart coaches wrestling and has gone so far as to forfeit matches instead of asking boys on his team to face a girl. Trinity coach Pat Murphy told the committee about a boy who faced the choice of wrestling a girl or giving up a chance to go to the state tournament. The boy went ahead but found no joy in winning, Murphy said.
Marquart said he can't understand why such contact between sexes is acceptable on the wrestling mat, but scorned in other school settings.
"If we saw the same thing in the hallways of the school we'd break that up and send them to detention," he said.
The dilemma stems from a decision 21 years ago, when the Legislature deemed it discrimination to restrict athletic opportunities to one sex. According to the Minnesota State High School League, there are no girls-only wrestling teams; the number of individual female wrestlers was not available.
Rep. Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-Falcon Heights, said the proposal could shut the door to some female athletes.
"By not having the mixed teams, we effectively eliminate high school wrestling from the options girls have," McGuire said.
That's a consequence Kathleen Woodbury is willing to accept. Woodbury, a White Bear Lake track and swimming coach and the mother of a 14-year-old boy who wrestles, said Minnesota should join 39 other states that don't allow the mixed competition.
"The pendulum has swung too far," she said.
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