Family Photo
Courtney Jackson, 9, won first place at Orem wrestling tourney last year.

Two mothers who say their daughters were unfairly denied participation in a local wrestling tournament have contacted attorneys and the ACLU for advice on how to prevent it from happening again.

Kristi Jones of Santaquin and Jessica Vellinga of Provo said their daughters faced gender discrimination during the Rocky Mountain Wrestling invitational at Orem High School Saturday morning.

Jones said her daughter, Courtney Jackson, 9, who won first place in the same tournament last year, was not allowed to wrestle boys at the event this year because of rule changes by the tournament operator, Cole Kelley.

"He just told me that he wasn't going to let them wrestle her," Jones said. "She was upset. She feels like she should have the same rights as everybody else."

Vellinga said her 6-year-old daughter, Jet, faced similar circumstances at the tournament. She said Kelley told her he once had to wrestle a girl at a national tournament, and he didn't want to put the boys through the same experience.

"He wasn't even discreet about it," Vellinga said. "He said 'I'm not going to have girls wrestle boys at my tournament. He called my daughter 'honey.' . . . He was really patronizing toward us."

Kelley said he was trying to match wrestlers up into similar groups for competition and put Jet and another girl into the same group but was unable to find a group for Courtney. He said he was planning to put Courtney in a group with boys but her mother pulled her out of the tournament before he could place her.

The mothers say Kelley's registration forms asked for information on age, weight and experience and said nothing about gender-based groupings.

"It was a very underhanded way at discriminating against the girls," Vellinga said.

Kelley also blamed a blown fuse in the sound system for a failure to tell Jones and other parents about the grouping system.

"I do feel bad, and I want to apologize to Courtney for my error for the miscommunication," Kelley said. "I want to apologize to her mom for the miscommunication, and for the the future, I want her to know I'll make more of an effort to make it a positive experience."

Kelley said he was worried parents of some boys might be unwilling to have their sons wrestle against a girl.

"It happens frequently in the sport," Kelley said. "There are people that are uncomfortable with it, and I understand why they would be uncomfortable. If they refuse to wrestle, then it's unfortunate for the boy. It's unfortunate for the girl. I was looking for kids her weight, her size."

Courtney's coach, Brad McKee, said he pulled the entire Santaquin junior wrestling team from the tournament because of Kelley's actions.

"He completely took the word 'fun' out of wrestling and completely interjected his own, and that was 'discrimination,' " McKee said. "It's unfortunate that they make this an issue of gender. It's a skill thing. If you don't want to wrestle a girl, then you should forfeit the match. If you think you can beat her, then put the gear on and let's get it on."