Public-Private School Debate Rages After School Adds 12 Girls to Face Catholic Team

Bishop McCort Catholic was scheduled to host its first-ever wrestling match on Thursday night, and the Johnstown school already was making headlines across the wrestling world – and possibly could have outside of it if the match hadn’t been postponed by inclement weather.

A move by a rival school would have forced Bishop McCort to forfeit weight classes in a dual meet by using females who have never wrestled a varsity match and would have, presumably, taken the spot of regular varsity starters in some instances. A 2014 ruling by Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic bishops states that “Under no circumstances may Catholic school, parish, CYO or club athletes wrestle someone of the opposite sex.”

The Crimson Crushers’ opponent, Westmont Hilltop, has added 12 female wrestlers to its roster since the start of the season. If an opponent sends a female to the mat, Bishop McCort must forfeit that match.

According to the ruling “In the event a match is scheduled with someone from the opposite sex from an opposing team, the Catholic school, parish, CYO or club athlete will either have to forfeit the match or negotiate the match with the opposing team, so a female wrestler does not wrestle one of our athletes.”

That’s unlikely to happen given the atmosphere surrounding the dual and what appears to be a deliberate attempt to use the rule against Bishop McCort.

The Crimson Crushers are in their first season as a varsity program, but this is not your average startup. Bishop McCort has a pair of returning PIAA runners-up in Anthony Walters and Josiah Jones. Two other wrestlers – Carnell Andrews and Ethan Kelly – also attend Bishop McCort and were state qualifiers last season. Each has attended Bishop McCort for years but made it to Hershey through a co-op with … you guessed it … Westmont Hilltop.

In a highly contentious move, Bishop McCort tried to end its co-op with Westmont Hilltop prior to last season to start its own program, but the nearby school refused to let the Crimson Crushers out of the deal early. Instead, the contract expired after the season and Bishop McCort raised nearly $250,000 to build a wrestling-only practice facility.

The school made a splashy hire in coach Shad Benton, a former Division II national champion at Pitt-Johnstown, and put together a schedule that includes a dual meet with Wyoming Seminary plus tournament dates at King of the Mountain, POWERade, Escape the Rock and the Brookville Ultimate Duals.

Since those announcements, Kaden Cassidy – one of the Top Incoming Freshmen – and a few other wrestlers have enrolled at Bishop McCort. Cassidy is from Bedford – about 45 miles from Johnstown – while some of the other new student-athletes are from nearby school districts.

Those moves drew howls of protests from Johnstown-area wrestling fans who accuse the Catholic school of recruiting, although none has offered any proof of wrongdoing.

Many public school fans and parents – those outside of Westmont Hilltop and many with no connection to wrestling – expressed support for the Hilltoppers on social media, saying that the move would be a way to protest the what they see as an unfair advantage because private schools do not face the same geographic limitations that public schools do.

Bishop McCort won its first dual meet on Tuesday and, although the Crimson Crushers likely have too many holes in their lineup this season to win a dual-meet title, they do have enough individual firepower to contend in postseason tournaments.

Westmont Hilltop coach Matt Beaujon, who declined to be interviewed, has been very successful over the years and is widely regarded as one of the best dual-meet strategists in District 6. He hasn’t been afraid to make unpopular moves, however, and he was suspended for the final month of the 2007-08 season after he pulled his team from the District 6 dual-meet championship after a controversial loss to Mount Union.

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