Trista Blasz knows she can win, and the 12-year-old wrestler has a trophy case full of awards to prove it. She’s so good that her local high school’s coach took the rare step of inviting the seventh-grader to wrestle on one of his teams.
Not because of her fitness or her size, Trista’s family said, but for a reason laid out in messy blue script on one of her medical forms.
“Girls don’t play boys sports in Lancaster schools,” the physician wrote after Trista’s physical.
That sweeping statement isn’t true — and school officials in Lancaster, N.Y., have since debunked it — but Trista didn’t know that at the time. She did know that it wasn’t fair.
“It’s because I’m a girl and they don’t want girls taking the opportunities from the boys,” Trista told The Washington Post. “But there’s no such thing as a sport just for boys. Every sport is for everyone, and he just doesn’t want girls to outshine the boys.”
And outshine them, she can.
Trista has wrestled and beaten boys for years, just like she has beaten girls. She’s a national champion and, to her, there’s not much difference between girls and boys in wrestling, a sport where participants are divided based on their weight class.
Trista is a pioneer of a slow-moving national trend toward greater gender equality in sports and wider representation of girls on teams traditionally made up entirely of boys — a path tread before her by the likes of Little League pitching phenom Mo’ne Davis and touchdown-tossing high school quarterback Holly Neher.
But at first, Trista wasn’t assured a spot on the junior varsity team at Lancaster High.
When her mother, Danielle Blasz, saw what the doctor wrote, she was furious. She appealed the decision to school administrators and eventually told her story to a local television station.
Shortly after the WKBW broadcast aired, the school board called an emergency meeting and voted to fire the doctor, Michael Terranova, and his practice, which the district had contracted with for nearly 40 years.
Terranova’s office did not return a request for comment, but it sent a statement to patients that read: “Permission was denied based on objective standards mandated by the state. This decision was motivated by concerns for the student’s safety and physical maturity. Despite public outcry initiated by the student’s parent, any form of discrimination is strenuously denied.”
The physician was part of a three-person panel that ruled Trista ineligible. But at the Saturday meeting, school board president Patrick Uhteg denounced that decision.
“Girls and women should have the opportunity to do anything boys and men can do,” Uhteg said. “Young ladies like Trista should be made to feel empowered, encouraged and celebrated. This is 2019, and this is the Lancaster school district. We do what is best for kids. Period. The review panel’s decision is not what’s best for kids.”
On Tuesday, another panel reconsidered Trista’s case, and Superintendent Michael Vallely vowed it would be “committed to assess the student athlete’s eligibility on medical evaluation without gender bias.”
Later that day, the Blasz family heard back: Trista made the team. They were jubilant — and relieved.
Trista and her mother had been hopeful, especially after the departure of Terranova, who they said has barred girls from wrestling in the past — notably, Cristta Hartinger, who is Trista’s aunt.
Hartinger joined the Lancaster High team in 2011 after first being denied a spot by the same panel that ruled against Trista. After Hartinger’s mother demanded an explanation from school officials, she was allowed to participate and went on to wrestle in college. Nearly a decade later, Trista hopes to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, one of her earliest role models.
Danielle Blasz said she’s motivated by the thought that her daughter could be the last girl to have her dream deferred at the school.
“I’m doing it for all females who want to come wrestle at Lancaster,” she said. “For any girl who wants to compete for their school. I just want them to not give up and keep fighting, to not ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something — especially a man.”
In a Nov. 11 letter, Trista’s primary care physician said he feels “extremely confident that she will be more than able to participate in wrestling against boys or girls her size and weight."
It’s an assessment Trista agrees with.
“Don’t doubt me unless you’ve seen me wrestle and seen what I can do,” she said.
She’s not looking for any special treatment, she said. She just wants a chance.