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Transgender teen wins Texas state wrestling tournament amid controversy

A 17-year-old completed an undefeated season on Saturday by winning a controversial Texas state girls’ wrestling title. Throughout this season, Mack Beggs has been garnering attention, not because of the tremendous season that he has been having, but because he is transgender.

“Everybody has been talking about it,” said one longtime Texas high school wrestling coach, who requested anonymity because his school district prohibited its employees from publicly discussing Beggs’ situation. “All this week I’m in school and kids are coming up and talking about it. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Beggs has been transitioning for the past two years. Born Mackenzie Beggs, his grandmother remembers him telling her that he wanted to be a boy after cutting his hair. She remembers the relief he felt after identifying as transgender.

Beggs began taking supplements at the beginning of his transition. He documented his process via video diary. At the beginning he predicted a complicated wrestling career due to his transition, but declared that he wanted to continue to participate in the sport that he had grown to love. In 2015, Mack began taking testosterone injections.

This is where the controversy lies. Many believe that the testosterone he is taking for his transition has created an unfair advantage. They reference an immense change in physique over the past year; he was stronger, leaner. Parents and coaches began to draw attention to it, citing the testosterone shots as cheating. Other coaches disagreed, impressed by Beggs’ commitment to improvement and his mental preparation. Testosterone is technically a banned substance for wrestling competition, but Texas state law allows for competitors to use banned substances if prescribed for a “valid medical purpose.”

Beggs then went to the University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletics in Texas public schools. He requested to wrestle in the boys division, but the UIL turned him down. This was because it directly violated a policy that they enacted on Aug. 1, 2016, referred to as the “birth certificate policy,” which states that an athletes’ divison is based on what is on their birth certificate. However, UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison, who refused to address Beggs directly, said the UIL had not received a request to change divisions from any athlete at this competition.

Harrison believes that the outcome of the tournament was fair, despite concerns about Beggs. “Nothing that has happened at this year’s wrestling championships has the UIL reconsidering its rules, because quite frankly, we don’t believe that any issues being reported on are really a product of UIL rules,” he said.

The UIL issued a statement Friday that said the birth certificate rule could change in the future (its legislative council meets in June), and Beggs’ school district determined his testosterone was “well below the allowed level.”

Attorney Jim Baudhuin tried and failed to get injunctions before both the district and regional meets to prevent Beggs from competing while he transitions because he is taking testosterone. Baudhuin, who is the parent of a wrestler at another school who has never faced Beggs, told the Associated Press earlier this week he doesn’t blame Beggs for the situation, but faults the UIL.

“The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she’s just trying to live her life and her family is, too,” Baudhuin said, using pronouns that Beggs does not identify with. “She’s being forced into that position. Who knows, through discovery we may find out that’s not the case. But every indication is, the way the winds are going now, the blame rests with the UIL and the superintendents.”

Baudhuin continued, “The 16 girls who are in [Beggs’] bracket have been put in a very, very unfair situation because of the grown-ups. To me, this is a complete abject failure of leadership and accountability from the people who regulate sports in Texas. They’re doing wrong by Mack, and not just these 15 girls but all the other girls she wrestled all year.”

Coaches, parents and players alike have not been as understanding. “She’s standing there holding her head high like she’s the winner,” said Patti Overstreet, a mother of a wrestler in the boys’ division, also using pronouns that Beggs no longer uses to describe himself. “She’s not winning. She’s cheating.” During the state regional tournament, two of Beggs’ opponents forfeited rather than face him. During Breggs’ semifinal match one coach said, “If you really want to be a boy, why don’t you wrestle the boys?”

At the state tournament, Beggs pinned Kailyn Clay earlier Saturday to reach the final. That was after he beat Taylor Latham and Mya Engert handily on Friday to reach the semifinals.

Taylor’s mom tried to convince her daughter to forfeit, but Taylor refused to consider it. This would be her final weekend of high school competition, an appearance at the state championship alongside the state’s top 16 wrestlers. Her mother said she prayed for Taylor’s safety and even called the American Civil Liberties Union the day before the state tournament to ask for an emergency injunction to keep Beggs from competing. Taylor’s aunt took a different approach: offering $500 if Taylor beat Beggs on points, $1,000 for a pin.

The boos grew louder as Beggs advanced, the chatter throughout the arena intensifying. In the final, Mack was up against Chelsea Sanchez in the 110-pound classification. He beat her 12-2 becoming the first transgender participant to win a Class 6A girls’ state championship in Texas high school wrestling.

At the medal ceremony, Beggs celebrated with his fellow athletes. Proudly holding his medal, he exclaimed, “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates. That’s honestly what the spotlight should be on, is my teammates,” Beggs said. “The hard work that I put in the practice room with them beside me, we trained every single day, every single day, and that’s what the spotlight should be been on, not me.”

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