(HARRISBURG, Pa.) — Boys who wrestle for Catholic school teams in central Pennsylvania are required to forfeit if facing a female opponent under a policy adopted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.
The co-ed participation policy, which the diocese said was issued to address safety and modesty, also includes football and rugby.
“Preparation for Christian adulthood likewise involves the development and encouragement of appropriate, dignified and respectful forms of contact between male and female students,” Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said in a statement outlining the policy. “The Diocese therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its efforts to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact.”
Under the policy, women are forbidden from participating in wrestling, tackle football and tackle rugby.
If a match is scheduled between a male wrestler from a Catholic school and a female wrestler from another school, the male athlete would either have to forfeit the match or negotiate with the opposing team, “so a female wrestler would not wrestle one of our athletes.”
The Catholic school students are allowed to face female opponents from other schools’ football and rugby teams.
The diocese covers 15 counties in south central Pennsylvania, and serves over 11,000 students — including seven high schools.
Dioceses have been grappling in recent years with the issue of co-ed participation in contact sports. In 2013, the Archbishop of Philadelphia banned co-ed participation in Catholic Youth Organization football, but later reversed course following an awareness campaign led by Caroline Pla, 11.
Female participation in high school wrestling is increasing — from 7,351 in 2010-11 to 9,904 in 2013-14, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. About 1,700 girls played high school football and 322 played rugby nationwide in 2013-14, according to the NFSHSA’s annual Athletics Participation Survey.
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