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Sports

Wrestling equality going to the mat

INDIANAPOLIS - Title IX has jumped up and kicked a most

unsuspecting victim in the pants: wrestling.

Of course, it is Title IX that has opened the floodgates to girls' and

women's participation in sports during the past couple of decades. And it is

the sport of wrestling - an activity for the men, by the men and of the men for

so long - whose coaching fraternity has complained the loudest that schools

bent on encouraging female athletic competition were killing them.

But voila, the latest Olympic sport to welcome women is wrestling, and this

weekend's U.S. Olympic wrestling trials here are evidence of how strong,

intense athletes - male or female - tend to break delicate political china.

"It's just numbers; you can't get rid of us," said Stephanie Shaw, a high

school junior from Waterford, Conn. "We're just as aggressive as the guys. When

I was young, it was bad. Really bad. People would say, 'You shouldn't be

here.' But after you beat so many coaches' sons, they tend not to put you down

as much."

Shaw's is a fairly typical story: Her father wrestled, her brothers

wrestled, she grew up around the mats and she wanted to give it a try. "It's

his fault," she said, jerking a thumb toward Roger Shaw, who wrestled in high

school and at RPI and now coaches his daughter.

He shrugged, "Anything's better than watching TV. She rides horses. She

paints. This is healthy."

Sara Fulp-Allen of El Granada, Calif., started wrestling when she was 9;

her dad signed her and her younger sister up for a tournament and she "wrestled

a boy [while] wearing my gymnastics tights and water shoes taped to my feet.

These little plastic moccasins."

But for all the dad/enablers, there still are fathers like Jose Miranda,

whose daughter Patricia would sign up for matches in her native Saratoga,

Calif., then learn that Jose had scratched her from the meet. She finally had

to cut a deal: If she made straight A's in school, he would allow her to

wrestle, and she now is reigning national champion at 24.

Still, the idea of women wrestling makes some people squirm. "You watch

them here," said Cael Sanderson, the man who had a 159-0 match record through

his collegiate career at Iowa State. "They're getting tougher. I'm glad I don't

have a sister, I'll say that."

When Jenny Wong of Woodbury, Minn., informed her mother that she wanted to

try wrestling, Florence Wong asked if it had something to do with mud. Wong,

now 22, was a high school cheerleader at the time, and she knew she was fit

because Woodbury High had a terrific football team.

"We would do a pushup for every point they scored," she said, "and one game

they scored, like, 66 points, and I had to do 66 pushups." She had heard a

couple of boys talking during math class about how much fun wrestling was, and

she figured: why not?

"Most of the ones who are fighting for this," said 24-year- old Marine

Miriam Jenkins, who started wrestling in high school, said, 'Daddy, I want to

do this.' And the daughter started kicking butt and Daddy said, 'Maybe I'm

doing the wrong thing.'"

Her own mother wondered, "Why don't you play basketball?" But the tiny

Jenkins rolled her eyes in telling the story. "Mom," she had responded. "I'm

short." Five-one. "And a half," she added.

So the cultural war goes thusly: There are a total of seven college varsity

women's wrestling teams in the nation. Only two states, Texas and Hawaii, have

high school wrestling for girls (with Washington and California about to join

them).

Beyond the obvious boys- will-be-boys, rough-and-tumble sense of wrestling

- sweaty guys rolling around trying to make each other cry uncle - there is the

built-in obsession with how much everyone weighs. Competition is divided into

weight classes and athletes are known to lose as much as 20 pounds in a week to

"make weight."

When reigning world champion Kristie Marano missed the 138� cutoff for her

competition here - she is the reigning world champion in that division - she

was forced to bump up to the next Olympic classification of 158� and has been

faced with repeated questions of how much she weighs.

Such discussion is verboten for virtually all other women's sports -

gymnastics organizations refuse to list weights, for instance, and U.S. women's

soccer coach April Heinreichs recently made clear that she "would never make

weight an issue" because of concerns of eating disorders.

None of this bothers Roger Shaw, who recalled when his daughter was paired

against boys in junior high school.

"There was this one coach, before his kid's match against Stephanie; he

shouted out, 'Come on, it's only a girl!' After she stuck him, her next match

was against another of that coach's boys. He yelled, "Watch out! She knows what

she's doing!"

New York Sports