Dearborn — Build your own team. That’s effectively the response given by the National Collegiate Wrestling Association to a policy change request seeking approval for coed wrestling at league meets.
The ACLU’s Detroit chapter, partnering with three women’s advocacy groups, sent the request on behalf of Marina Goocher, 20, who wrestles for the University of Michigan-Dearborn club team.
Goocher, a junior who is a mechanical engineering major, said she could not wrestle in the regular season during her freshman and sophomore seasons, a point underlined in an email sent last year by NCWA executive director Jim Giunta to coaches stating: “Women wrestle women, men wrestle men, in practice and competition. Period.”
In a 14-page response issued Tuesday, the NCWA stated it agreed women should have equal opportunities as men and suggested Goocher recruit female teammates from the estimated 9,000 students on campus. It noted, too, 96 percent of the students are Michigan natives, giving Goocher the opportunity to begin recruiting potential teammates while they are in high school. In addition to open, non-league meets where coed wrestling is allowed, the NCWA pointed out there are many league-hosted competitions around the country Goocher could travel to and compete with women.
“The NCWA helps young men and women become leaders,” the letter states. “Wrestling is tough. So is building a wrestling program and leading it.”
The letter does not explicitly state its own rule forbidding coed wrestling, and two emails and a phone call to Giunta requesting clarification were not returned.
Bonsitu Kitaba, the ACLU lawyer handling Goocher’s case, said the NCWA’s response put an unfair burden on Goocher to single-handedly build a woman’s program at her school, adding even if that happened, “Who would they wrestle?”
At last check, the NCWA’s website listed fewer than 25 women wrestlers in the country, including zero in the Great Lakes Conference, in which UM-Dearborn competes. Kitaba said the ACLU is open to resolving the matter through talks, but would consider the possibility of litigation if needed.
Goocher said she appreciated the possibility of traveling to other meets, but added it would take her away from her team and force her coach to choose between her and her male teammates.
Goocher is undefeated against women in the NCWA-hosted nationals the past two years and plans on returning this year and next, even if it’s after two more inactive regular seasons.