J.P. McCaskey used a Diocese of Harrisburg ruling against female wrestlers to beat Squires
Clay Durham has been waiting for someone to do what J.P. McCaskey did to Delone Catholic at the Canner Duals.
Since July 2014, the state's Catholic school wrestling teams have been banned from allowing females to join their squads. The policy against co-ed contact sports competition was instituted by the Diocese of Harrisburg and the rest of Pennsylvania's Dioceses, and mandates that male wrestlers must forfeit matches against females.
Durham, a longtime Pennsylvania wrestling scorekeeper and pioneer of the successful 2013 "Save Olympic Wrestling" petition, waited for a public school to use the new ruling to its advantage.
It finally happened on Jan. 2, after a Ryan Hart pin vaulted the Squires into a 30-30 tie with the Red Tornado with three matches remaining. J.P. McCaskey quickly broke that tie for good when coach Isaias Rodriguez sent out junior varsity girls with no varsity experience in the next two matches, forcing Delone Catholic to forfeit both matches and fall behind 42-30 on the way to a 42-36 loss. Neither Mariah Polite-Lemon nor Yanahis Arredona wrestled in any other matches during the Canner Duals.
"That’s the first time I’m aware of it happening," Durham said of J.P. McCaskey sending out girls who are not normal starters to earn forfeits. "I’ve been expecting someone to pull that against Bethlehem Catholic, because a lot of people in that area don’t like Bethlehem Catholic. They beat up that area so bad because they recruit from all over the state and from New Jersey, and it’s left people with a bad taste. I’m surprised nobody’s pulled that against them yet.”
The two forfeits may have cost Delone Catholic a victory since a positive outcome in either match would have ultimately secured a team win. The loss could have implications late in the season if the Squires end up on the bubble of qualifying for districts.
"The integrity of Delone and what we do are far greater than if I make districts or miss it,” Squires coach Frank Sneeringer said. "When it happened, I felt worse for the two girls from McCaskey than I did for my team. Here’s two young females who are out for their team, and their coach exploits them. It’s sad for them because they were a token. My kids understood immediately and nothing was said, they just accepted it because they know our rules.”
J.P. McCaskey Athletic Director Jonathan Mitchell, who was the school's wrestling coach for 21 years and founded the Pennsylvania Girls High School Wrestling Championships in 1999, said he did not feel Rodriguez's strategy exploited Polite-Lemon or Arredona in any way. Girls have wrestled for McCaskey since 1998, he said, including Rodriguez's wife. Rodriguez's daughter currently wrestles in the McCaskey youth program.
“I believe girls should have the opportunity to wrestle other girls," Mitchell said. "Unfortunately, because we tend to be somewhat conservative in the wrestling world in Pennsylvania, people not only don’t want to see them wrestling boys, they don’t want to see them wrestling each other or wrestling at all. If anyone thinks (Rodriguez's) decision was made to exploit the girls, that certainly wasn’t the spirit behind the decision.”
Delone Catholic's players and coaches did not object to the forfeits in any way, quietly shaking hands after the match.
"We see the purpose of education is to form the whole person, mind, body and spirit," Diocese of Harrisburg Director of Communications Joseph Aponick said in a statement. "With that philosophy we see the athletic arena as an extension of the classroom. In that context these various sports programs exist in our schools for the values that they can teach, not just for the possibility of athletic competition. We are extremely proud of Delone Catholic High School and of the wrestling team for their integrity to Diocesan policy and to the teachings upon which they are built."
Rodriguez and the Red Tornadoes did not commit any rule violations by sending out two girls to take forfeits, but Durham said many in the Pennsylvania wrestling community view the ploy as cheap while others view it as smart. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is not one of the five state athletic governing bodies in the country that offers female wrestling as a separate sport, leaving male and female wrestlers grouped together in high school competition.
“I think coaches are out there and they’re trying to work within the rules to win matches and get where they need to be in the power rankings,” Mitchell said. “They’re looking at, how can we qualify the team for the district championship for the first time since the ‘80s? I don’t think it was a statement; I don’t think it was anything other than a coach trying to win a match and not realizing that it was probably a hot-button topic for other people. Rest assured, I’ve had conversations with my coach about why it might be a hot-button topic for other people.”
Northeastern, meanwhile, normally sends out 126-pounder Jasmyne Milburn in its starting lineup but chose not to send her out at all when facing Delone Catholic in the same tournament. Instead, the teams double-forfeited the 120-pound bout, and Northeastern bumped usual 120-pounder Devon Smith up to 126 pounds.
Since the Diocese ruling came down two years ago, Sneeringer has been cognizant of wrestling against female opponents, but he said he didn't think it would cause concern during a dual meet.
“When they put the rule in, where I thought it would become an issue is at an individual tournament where there’s a female in a bracket, and I would have to tell one of my wrestlers not to wrestle," he said. "When I go to tournaments, I ask to have my wrestlers moved away from females in the bracket.”
Wrestling against females could become an issue again when Delone Catholic hosts Hanover on Jan. 7. Freshman Kyli Caler came up through the Hanover youth program and has been the Nighthawks starting 113-pounder all season.
“I can’t wrestle her, but that’s understandable," Sneeringer said. "What I’ll do (if she's in the lineup) is just move my 113-pounder up to 120 against them. But that’s a different story because she is their 113-pounder. That’s within the spirit of competition.”