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History was made over the weekend in Denver when not one but two girls stood proudly on the podium at the Colorado state high school wrestling tournament for the first time ever. Angel Rios, a junior from Valley High, finished fourth, while senior Jaslynn Gallegos of Skyview High was fifth in the Class 3A 106-pound weight class.
They were there in part because a boy forfeited to them rather than compete against them. Senior Brendan Johnston of The Classical Academy declined to wrestle Gallegos in the tournament’s first round, then did the same when he faced Rios in the third round of consolation matches.
“I’m not really comfortable with a couple of things with wrestling a girl,” Johnston told Sean Keeler of The Denver Post. “The physical contact, there’s a lot of it in wrestling. And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either.”
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While Johnston avoided competing against both girls, Weld Central freshman Robert Estrada took on each one, winning tough matches both times to finish third overall.
“It’s really cool to have the first girls place at state in my bracket,” Estrada told The Post. “Really cool. … (Rios) is really tough. She’s one of the best in the nation among girls. Same with Jaslynn.
“She never stops. She’s strong. She’s quick. She’s really good. I’m pretty happy for her to get this far. She deserves it. As does Jaslynn.”
Johnston isn’t the first boy to stubbornly refuse to compete against a girl, and Estrada isn’t the first boy to enthusiastically welcome it. About 300 girls participated in the sport this winter in Colorado, according to The Post, and it’s believed most matches went off without a hitch.
It is 2019 after all. These kids were born in the 21st century. If a girl decides she wants to wrestle, as thousands have across the nation, most boys respect that, treat her as she wants to be treated – like just another wrestler – and do their best to defeat her.
For those who are still having trouble with that concept, it might be time to figure out why. Is it really because these young gentlemen are worried about how they are treating a “young lady?” Or is it something else?
On a flight a year ago, I happened to sit next to the father of two male high school wrestlers who told me over the course of a conversation about high school sports that his sons had both forfeited matches rather than wrestle against a girl.
I asked why. He mentioned religion and treating girls and women the right way, and then he said this:
“Can you imagine what it would be like for a boy to lose to a girl?”
Aha. Now we were getting somewhere.
“Have you ever thought about what it’s like for a girl to lose to a boy?” I replied.
We ended up agreeing that no one likes to lose.
The hands-on nature of the sport of wrestling and the inherent proximity of the competitors to one another make this conversation all the more interesting. If athletes like Johnston are worried about competing against a girl in such a manner, what would they think about competing against a boy who is gay – which they might already have done? Or a transgender athlete?
The sooner the families of these reluctant boys figure this out, the better they will be, because these are young men who will be competing against and working with women the rest of their lives. They might as well get used to it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.