Colorado wrestler Brendan Johnston loses his place in a state championship instead of competing with a girl


Brendan Johnston, left, shakes hands with Angel Rios after losing the consolation game of the third round of the Colorado State Wrestling Championships in Denver last Saturday. (Michael Ciaglo)

For Brendan Johnston, the choice was simple. The 18-year-old wrestler from the Classical Academy in Colorado had never competed against a girl and, faced with the opportunity to do so and potentially getting closer to a turn to achieve her goal of winning the title of state struggle, he instead decided to give up. .

For one of the two potential opponents that Johnston refused to face at Colorado State Wrestling Championships last weekend, the result was frustrating. She said that she understood and respected her decision, but she wondered why a wrestler, regardless of her gender, would decide to give up a national tournament after doing so until now. Johnston cited personal and religious convictions for not wanting to fight a girl.

"My thing is, I'm not a wrestler, I'm just a wrestler," said Jaslynn Gallegos, a senior at Skyview High School. "So it does not hurt me, but I take it to heart."

In a situation that drew national attention, Johnston's refusal to fight a competitor has disappointed and frustrated many people at a time when girls' participation in the sport continues to increase across the country. Although such incidents are rare, this is a scenario that is more frequently confronted with the growth of women's wrestling as a whole.

"There is something that I find really problematic in the idea of ​​struggling with a girl, and part of it comes from my faith and conviction," said Johnston, who identifies himself as a Christian and says he frequents International Anglican Church of Colorado Springs. "And part of it comes from the way I was raised to treat women as well as maybe different experiences and things."

Johnston, who has never battled a girl since he started the sport in seventh grade, said the physical aggression required for wrestling was not something he was comfortable showing. to a girl, on or off the carpet. He refused to fight Gallegos in the first round of the state tournament in category 3A. He then decided to give up Angel Rios, a junior from Valley High School, in the third round of consolation, ending his high school wrestling career.

"During all this time I struggled, it's just me trying to prove I'm just a wrestler," said Gallegos. "And so the fact that my sex is something that holds me back is a bit scary, but I respect her decision. That's good. "

Jaslynn Gallegos, left, celebrates after pinning her opponent Trevor Torrez for fifth place at the Colorado State Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Denver. (Michael Ciaglo)

Rios is ranked fourth in the tournament. Gallegos was fifth after Johnston's lost package. It was the first time that a girl was going to a wrestling tournament in the state of Colorado. The struggle of girls is not yet a sanctioned sport in the state; girls have the right to participate alongside the boy at the state tournament. A pilot program has been set up to allow a group of students to compete in high school at the national level, but Rios and Gallegos have decided to compete with boys.

According to Amy Zirneklis, deputy director of Wrestle Like A Girl, a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower girls and women through sport, the popularity of wrestling is growing among high school girls. Nearly 17,000 of them participate.

"We are entering the phase where coaches, parents and athletes are getting used to it a bit," Zirneklis said. "We have a little way to go, but I think at all levels. . . acceptance has transcended expectations.

Out of 50 states, 12 recognize girls' struggle as an official sanctioned high school sport. At the college level, there are no NCAA Division I women's wrestling squads – South Carolina Presbyterian College will open the first season of its inaugural season in 2019 – but there are 38 colleges in all divisions that line up a women's wrestling team is part of the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association.

"We believe that we will undoubtedly continue to meet scenarios in which athletes will make decisions with the utmost comfort until the environments, the educational systems and the culture of the sport of struggle evolve. a point where every athlete and every athlete who chooses to fight becomes standardized, "said Zirneklis. "We are not there yet, but the sport itself has made tremendous progress in recent years."

Johnston had refused to fight the girls before the state tournament. He has refused to fight Rios several times this season, with all games leading to fouls. Rios' mother, Cher, expressed her daughter's disappointment to Johnston's mother earlier in the season, according to the Denver Post.

"It's his decision and I understand that if it's against his religion," said Rios at Greeley (Colo.) Tribune. "I have no control over the situation, so if that's what he chooses to do, it's on him, I guess."

Angel Rios wins the consolation match of the third round after Brendan Johnston's defeat at the Colorado State Wrestling Championships in Denver. (Michael Ciaglo)

Last year in the state tournament, Johnston refused to face another wrestler, Cayden Condit, in the consolation rounds. He spent about an hour or two late in the night talking to his trainer about the procedure and finally decided to stick to his beliefs.

"Last year, in the state, it became a type of choice, but not only:" It's really something I'm ready to respect when it counts, I guess, "said Johnston. "And for me, it was important enough for this to be the decision I made."

This year, his goal was to win the national tournament. He completed a senior campaign, but when he arrived in the United States and realized he had to face Gallegos and Rios, he realized that his goal was offside.

"I do not think I consider them to be equal," Johnston said of Gallegos and Rios. "I say that they are women and that it is different to be a man, because I believe that men and women are different and that we are made differently. But I still believe that women have the same value as men. I do not think that seeing men and women as different. . . [opposes] the idea of ​​equality. "

Gallegos, who started fighting at the age of five, said Johnston's actions were not "shocking" because boys' losses often occurred when she was younger. And even if Johnston did not want to fight, she knows the other boys will do it. Prove that they are wrong, that's what she likes to do.

"You walk before the game and you hear [the boys say]Oh, it's just a girl. I got that, "said Gallegos," and after the game, they come to me and say, "You're really good!" And it's really funny. "

As for Johnston, he says that if he had the chance to start all over again, he would do it.

"Even if it was not exactly what I wanted, it was a good way to end my high school career," he said. "I'll keep it all the same."

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