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Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs finishes high school career with another UIL state title amid boos, criticism and questions


Kramer
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CYPRESS -- Mack Beggs had been in this very spot, the pinnacle, 364 days earlier. In the same athletic complex. Beating the same state championship match opponent, Chelsea Sanchez of Katy Morton Ranch.

But if Euless Trinity transgender wrestler Beggs thought his Class 6A 110-pound girls title victory on Saturday would be more universally understood, respected and embraced than last year's, he was in for disappointment.

A piercing cascade of cheers and boos enveloped Beggs at the end of the match, the last of his high school career. He responded by repeatedly tapping his chest and turning in a circle so that every soul in the Berry Center, pro and con, could see him.

 
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End of Mack Beggs title match was chaos. Had huge lead, nearly got pinned, then came the crescendo of cheers/boos.

 
 

Did winning feel different this time?

"It definitely felt different," Beggs said. "I felt a lot more humble. This year I wanted to prove a point that anyone can do anything. Even though I was put in this position, even though I didn't want to be put in this position, even though I wanted to wrestle the guys, I still had to wrestle the girls.

"But what can I tell people? I can tell the state Legislature to change the policy, but I can't tell them to change it right now. All I can hope for is that they come to their [senses] and realize this is stupid and we should change the policies to conform to other people in my position."

Beggs wrestled girls because, under University Interscholastic League rules, athletes are required to compete in the gender division that corresponds to their birth certificate.

He was born female, as Mackenzie, but he identifies as male even though he has yet to have gender reassignment surgeries. He recently consulted with a Plano plastic surgeon and hopes to soon have "top surgery," which involves breast tissue removal and male chest contouring.

What did he think of the boos that greeted his title match victory, by an 11-2 score that nearly was identical to his 12-2 win over Sanchez in last year's title match? Beggs said he's never cared about public reaction and Saturday was no different.

"They're saying 'steroids.' They're saying, 'Oh, they're beating up on girls,' " he said.

"It just comes down to technique and who has the most heart. I put too much blood, sweat and tears, I put too much B.S. into this journey that I wanted to come out on top.

"In my heart, I am a champion. No matter who you put in front of me, I am a champion."

Fans weren't the only ones who voiced displeasure.

Cypress Ranch senior Kayla Fitts, who was 52-0 this season before falling to Beggs 11-2 in Saturday's semifinal match, told The Dallas Morning News, "The strength definitely was the difference. I didn't anticipate how strong he was."

Asked whether she believed having to wrestle Beggs was fair, Fitts firmly responded, "No."

Why not?

 

"I understand if you want to transition your gender," she said. "I understand that totally. But there's a time and a place.

"You can do that after high school. Or if you want to do it, you can quit the sport. Because I don't think it's fair at all that you're taking testosterone. That's steroids. I know it's not a lot. But still."

Beggs has taken doctor-prescribed, low-dose testosterone injections (currently 36 milligrams per week) since October of his freshman year. His gender transition and hormone therapy, however, did not come to public light until last January.

State law and UIL rules prohibit steroid use by high school athletes. Beggs' testosterone injections are permissible, however, because of the law's "safe harbor" provision, which allows steroids that are "dispensed, prescribed, delivered and administered by a medical practitioner for a valid medical purpose."

With Saturday's win, Beggs thus ended his senior season, and his time wrestling competitively against girls, with a 36-0 record. He was 56-0 as a junior and 40-9 as a sophomore, when he lost in the state tournament quarterfinals.

 

Beggs has an academic scholarship offer from a small college he declines to name, a school he says has promised him a chance to wrestle on the men's team. An emotional Beggs thanked Euless Trinity, wrestling coach Travis Clark and his teammates.

"Without them, I wouldn't be the wrestler and athlete that I am today," he said.

Despite the safe-harbor provision and birth certificate rule, and Beggs' often-stated preference to wrestle boys, public outcry began with a low grumble 13 months ago and grew into an uproar.

A Coppell wrestling parent filed a lawsuit that attempted to block Beggs from wrestling girls. And last May a law proposed in the Texas House would have given the UIL latitude to suspend athletes if "the safety of competing students or the fairness of a particular competition has been or will be substantially affected by the student's steroid use."

The lawsuit was dismissed by a Travis County judge. The proposed law, Senate Bill 2095, breezed through the Senate but died in the House's Public Education Committee because, according to the committee's chairman, it was received too late in the legislative session.

With legal avenues having at least temporarily played out, the turmoil surrounding Beggs lessened considerably during this wrestling season. The unspoken yet palpable general feeling entering Beggs' last state meet was: Let's get this weekend over with, then evaluate and readdress.

Beggs' Saturday morning semifinal victory over Fitts, however, drew some boos, mostly drowned by cheers as Fitts exited the mat and sobbed into her coach's chest.

Beggs' Saturday evening title match victory, too, brought cheers, but the booing was as intense as after last year's title match. Turns out, seemingly little had changed in the realm of public opinion.

Championship tournament at the Berry Center in Cypress, Texas on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News)

Exactly when the reassessment will begin and what it might yield is unclear, but as the Mack Beggs Texas high school wrestling saga closed Saturday, fundamental questions dangled:

What will happen the next time a transgender UIL athlete wants to compete in a gender division other than what is classified on his or her birth certificate?

Will it happen five years from now? Two years? Next year? Is there any doubt it will happen?

"I think we would be naïve and we'd all be kind of putting our head in the sand if we think this is a one-time, one-and-done situation," said Jim Baudhuin, the Coppell wrestling parent and lawyer who filed last spring's unsuccessful lawsuit. His daughter, Allie, lost in Friday's 128-pound quarterfinals.

 

"Especially with transgender coming out of the closet, so to speak," Baudhuin added. "The next time could be golf, it could be tennis, it could be running, it could be swimming. It could be who knows what."

One thing is clear: The UIL will not change its birth certificate rule, which the league describes as a "non-discriminatory" policy.

In 2016 UIL member district superintendents voted 586-32 to approve the rule, despite complaints from transgender advocates that the measure is exclusionary and outdated.

At least a dozen other states, as well as the NCAA, allow student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity.

"The UIL is not in the gender-determining business and schools don't want to be, either," UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison reiterated to The Associated Press last week.

During an interview with The News two weeks ago, Harrison made a point of saying that any Texas high school athlete, transgender included, is welcome to petition the UIL for "special consideration." Harrison said such requests would be weighed case by case.

Without mentioning Beggs by name, Harrison noted that during the last two years no Texas wrestler, wrestling family member or school has filed a petition to compete in a gender division other than the one on his or her birth certificate.

As for the possibility that state lawmakers might revisit softening or eliminating the steroid "safe harbor" provision when the next legislative session begins in January 2019, Harrison said UIL leaders always are available to meet with lawmakers who are considering any law that affects students.

"I can't speak on behalf of any legislator, but it certainly would not surprise me if it came up again," Harrison said. "That happens oftentimes when legislation passes one chamber but not the other."

Safe to say the UIL will keep close tabs on this particular legislative issue?

"Yes, sir," Harrison said.

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