Kathleen Janis and Gabbi Serrao are ninth graders at Central Davis Junior High School in Layton, Utah. Tuesday night, they dressed for the school’s first wrestling match of the year.
The battle to get to that spot has been waged not just on the mats, but in the courts. And, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, the battle is still ongoing.
“To get here, it’s been tough,” Kathleen told the Tribune on Tuesday. “But we’re good. Me and Gabbi, we’re going to get through what’s happening.”
As the Tribune reports, Janis and her family have been fighting the administration for more than a year to be allowed to try out for the once all-male wrestling team, but had been denied by officials who said it was against district policy. Last month, her mother, Kelly Janis, filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to declare the policy unconstitutional as a violation of her daughter’s 14th Amendment rights. With the case being litigated, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby recently ordered the school district to allow girls to wrestle while the lawyers argue.
As her daughter and her daughter’s classmate did Tuesday on the mat, Kelly Janis is confident that they will prevail in court.
“The fact that they told her no because of her gender,” she said, “that’s wrong.”
Tuesday’s match, the school’s first of the season, was not Kathleen’s wrestling debut. After going with her older brother to his wrestling practices, she has spent the past four years training and competing with clubs in northern Utah. But she was denied a chance at wrestling for Central Davis, as the district permits female wrestlers at the high school level but not in middle schools.
According to the lawsuit, females could only serve as team managers because officials had concerns about “inappropriate or sexual touching.”
After the judge’s ruling, Kathleen tried out for the team and earned a spot. For Tuesday’s opener, though, she had no opponent in the 175-pound class. Serrao, meanwhile, wrestled and won at the 104-pound class with a second-period pin.
“She helped get girls to be able to wrestle,” Gabbi said of her classmate.
“It’s not just about my daughter — it’s about all of them,” Kelly Janis told the Tribune. “It’s about giving them the opportunity.”
Davis County School District spokesman Chris Williams watched as Gabbi emerged victorious from her first match.
“We are following the judge’s order,” he told the Tribune. “Of course, we hope no matter who the athlete is that the athlete is treated like every other athlete. So was it exciting to watch [Gabbi] win the match? Yeah, it was exciting.”