Ryan girl deserves chance to wrestle

Amanda Leve grapples with a jiujitsu partner. Archdiocesan rules keep the Archbishop Ryan junior from wrestling for her school. LOU RABITO / Staff
Amanda Leve grapples with a jiujitsu partner. Archdiocesan rules keep the Archbishop Ryan junior from wrestling for her school. LOU RABITO / Staff
Posted: February 03, 2014

Amanda Leve talks with confidence and pride about her accomplishments in Brazilian jiujitsu, her unyielding willingness to battle boys her age and older, and her ability, at times, to force them into submission.

This being 2014, those opportunities exist for a 17-year-old girl.

Leve also speaks enthusiastically about wanting to become a professional mixed-martial-arts fighter, with the goal of competing on the sport's biggest stage, UFC.

This being 2014, that possibility is there for her, too.

Leve also wants to wrestle for her high school, Archbishop Ryan, which this season started a varsity program.

This being 2014, she has no chance at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia school.

Leve's bid to join Ryan's team was rejected by the archdiocese, which doesn't allow girls to wrestle.

"It angers me that I'm being discriminated against because I'm a girl and I can't wrestle," Leve said. "I enjoy jiujitsu. Wrestling could help my jiujitsu and could help me when I want to fight in mixed martial arts and hopefully get to the UFC."

The archdiocese "designates wrestling as a full contact sport open to boys only," spokesman Ken Gavin said Friday in an e-mail.

"All school academic, athletic, social, and community service programs serve to provide for intellectual growth and proper Catholic human formation," Gavin added. "This involves a respect for the differences between females and males. To allow for coeducational participation in wrestling, which involves various levels and types of full body contact, does not meet this standard of respect."

The archdiocese has the final say in the matter, because the PIAA allows a girl to compete in a boys' sport only if her school or district permits it. In recent years, a number of schools, including Pennsbury and Ridley, have had girls wrestle.

Leve (pronounced LEH-vee) was seeking a similar freedom.

The Ryan junior, a Northeast Philadelphia resident, has been involved with jiujitsu since she was 11. She works out at a club in Robbinsville, N.J., five days a week and has competed in tournaments, even one in Las Vegas.

A blue belt, she usually grapples in weight classes ranging from 150 to 160 pounds, and estimates that 99 percent of her opponents in teen-division competition are boys.

Just as with wrestling, battling against boys in jiujitsu involves a lot of body contact. But Leve doesn't participate in the sport for that. She's in it to win.

Unlike jiujitsu, though, wrestling could help her gain a scholarship, as a growing number of colleges offer women's wrestling. That's one reason she wants to join Ryan's team.

"My dad and I are sort of figuring out how we can push it more, but I want to see if I can join next year, my senior year," said Leve, adding that they might look into private wrestling clubs that welcome females.

This spring, Gavin said, Catholic bishops in the state will work on creating a policy that covers all contact sports.

The archdiocese's current stance affects more than just girls. It also prohibits boys from wrestling against girls from other teams.

That led to an unfortunate situation last season. Archbishop Wood was in a junior-varsity tournament, coach Vic Stanley recalled, and one of his wrestlers advanced to the semifinals.

"Our kid was scheduled to wrestle a girl, and because of the antiquated, idiotic, et cetera, et cetera Catholic League rule, we had to forfeit," Stanley said.

Stanley, a 73-year-old who has coached for more than four decades, said he is open to girls wrestling - under the right circumstances.

"I do not think that it is a good idea for girls to be involved in wrestling with boys," he said. "I think it is a no-win situation for the boy, because if he wins, oh, you wrestled a girl; if he loses, oh my God.

"Plus, think about it. You were taught from the time you were little that there were certain parts of a girl's body that you don't touch without permission. And then suddenly you're out there wrestling. What the hell do you do?

"Am I for girls wrestling? I'm for girls having the opportunity to wrestle. I think there should be girls' teams. But if there aren't girls' teams, then it's not fair to penalize my kids."

And it's not fair to penalize Amanda Leve, just because she's a girl.

She deserved a chance to wrestle this season.

She deserves a chance to wrestle next season.

This being 2014, the choice should be hers.


rabitol@phillynews.com

215-854-2916

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