School Board OKs Allowing Girls to Play Contact Sports

Times Staff Writer

San Diego school trustees voted Tuesday to allow girls to try out for boys’ wrestling and football teams, a policy change that will permit Mira Mesa High School sophomore Kerry Hanley to compete against male classmates when wrestling season begins Monday.

The measure passed on the strength of votes from the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education’s three women members, Kay Davis, Susan Davis and Dorothy Smith. School board President Larry Lester abstained and board member John Witt voted against it.

“I feel pretty good about it,” said Hanley, who was reached by telephone at home. “I would have felt really depressed about it if they had said ‘no’ after all this.”

Hanley’s request in late October to try out for the boys’ wrestling team prompted district administrators to review their policy prohibiting girls from competing in contact sports--wrestling and football--and recommend the change.


Witt was the only board member to speak against dropping the ban, contending that girls might be injured in wrestling matches with boys and that the sport might be “compromised” if they took part.

Witt said that there are “certain aggressive activities that young men have, that they need to take part in, that are compromised if young women participate in the same activities.”

He said that he received facial mat-burn scars during his days as a high school wrestler. “With a woman, I think that’s a much more serious thing,” Witt said.

Lester said that he abstained from the vote because he believes that boys should be allowed to participate in sports limited to girls if girls are permitted to try out for all-male sports. “I would like to see that same reasoning extended to volleyball, because I know that there are a number of boys who would like to participate,” Lester said during the board’s discussion.


Currently, volleyball is a girls’ sport under California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) rules for the San Diego Section, but there has been some discussion of opening it to boys, said Wayne DeBate, secondary athletics manager for the district.

The school board’s three women members supported the change as a step toward insuring equal opportunity for girls and promoting personal choice. “I think that what you’re implying is that all women are weak and all men are strong,” Smith told Witt. “And I don’t think we should make those kinds of judgments. I think we should give them an opportunity to try.”

Supt. Thomas Payzant and general counsel Christina Dyer said last week that the board’s approval was not needed to change the policy. But Dyer said Tuesday that further research showed that such changes in athletic policy have historically been taken to the school board for approval.

Mira Mesa wrestling coach Jon Talbott said Tuesday that CIF officials have told him that arrangements can be made to have Hanley weigh in separately with a woman official if she wins a spot on the team and competes against other schools.


“If the whole thing is going to work, she’s got to do the same workouts and the same drills,” he said. “I hope they just go out and consider Kerry a wrestler instead of a girl.”

Hanley, who was practicing balance and leverage techniques with her stepfather Tuesday, said she has received support for her bid from school wrestlers and her friends. Her stepfather, David Andersen, said he is “totally in support” of her tryout and believes she can avoid serious injury.