Mack Beggs came here to wrestle. And wrestle he did, manhandling four opponents over two days as he captured a Class 6A girls state championship Saturday.
The 110-pound gold medalist also captured something else: The attention of a nation increasingly polarized by transgender issues.
Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Euless Trinity High School, didn’t come to the state tournament seeking to carry the transgender torch, or to become a lightning rod, or to be the target of a lawsuit that could end his high school wrestling career.
But those subplots all played out during the two-day UIL Wrestling State Tournament at the Berry Center in Cypress, where Beggs defeated Chelsea Sanchez of Katy Morton Ranch 12-1 to win the championship.
His victory was greeted with a smattering of boos, but those were quickly drowned out by an outburst of cheering, which grew louder when Trinity coach Travis Clark put the gold medal around Beggs’ neck.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates. That’s honestly what the spotlight should have been … my teammates,” said Beggs, who led the Trinity girls to a second-place finish in the team standings.
“The hard work that I put in in the practice room with them beside me — we trained hard every single day. … That’s where the spotlight should have been on. Not me. All of these guys. Because I would not be here without them. Hard work ethic pays off.”
Then, lifting his gold medal, he said, “Just saying.”
Beggs was born a girl, yet from as early as 3 years old, his parents remember, he has considered himself a boy. Now more than a year after starting testosterone treatment that is transforming his physical appearance and increasing muscle mass to that of or near a boy of similar age, Beggs is required by the University Interscholastic League to compete as a girl and against girls.
He would prefer to wrestle boys, but lacking that option, he follows the rules set by the UIL, the state’s governing body for public school sports.
“This is about Mack wanting to do what Mack wants to do,” said Marco Karam, Beggs’ father. “Mack has a very strong passion about wrestling. People make assumptions that … and I don’t want to get into it.”
Grandmother Nancy Beggs said she was proud of both her grandson and the school he represents.
“Mack handled it (the pressure) great, better than I could handle it. Mack’s a great kid and you’ll be hearing from him, I promise,” Nancy Beggs said. “He’s a trooper and he said he’ll change the world. I think he will — at least the wrestling world.”
The UIL and testosterone
Beggs kept the two-day event squarely focused on wrestling and had been silent until after Saturday’s championship match.
There was certainly plenty of pressure with Beggs’ transgender story exploding beyond wrestling circles following last week’s regional tournament amid the revelation that a lawsuit had been filed to ban Beggs from wrestling in the girls division next season.
“The overwhelming sentiment here is that Mack should be allowed to wrestle, but should be required to compete against the boys,” said Coppell attorney Jim Baudhuin, who filed the suit.
Nancy Beggs, who accompanies her grandson to every tournament, said she is concerned about the lawsuit, but that they have the support of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district.
“We’re going back on Monday, the superintendent and the coaches are going to put something together, but until we have the attorney there, we can’t talk anything about that,” Nancy Beggs said.
More than 600 Texas school district superintendents voted nearly unanimously last year to determine gender by birth certificate, forcing Beggs to face girls despite taking testosterone, a decision that runs counter to NCAA policy and International Olympic Committee guidelines.
The UIL likely never expected a decision decried by multiple medical and transgender experts to come home to roost so soon.
UIL deputy executive director Jamey Harrison held three news conferences during the two days, with Beggs being the lone topic each time. After Beggs’ final victory, Harrison took exception that the majority of the large number of state and national media in attendance focused on one of 768 wrestlers in the state tournament.
“It’s a shame that 767 of them aren’t getting much attention,” Harrison said. “But we are proud of all 768 wrestlers.”
Harrison also said that nothing has happened during the tournament that “has the UIL reconsidering its rules, because quite frankly we don’t believe that any issues that are being reported on are really a product of UIL rules, despite the fact they’re being reported that way.”
He deflected attention from the UIL’s birth certificate rule and suggested the most controversial issue has to do with performance-enhancing drugs, such as testosterone. The use of performance-enhancing drugs as it relates to UIL competition, Harrison said, is governed by Texas state law.
The law allows for a student who is being administered steroids or testosterone by a physician to compete.
“That, simply put, means that our reading of the law means that UIL cannot declare a student ineligible for the use of performance-enhancing drugs if they are doing so under the exception vested in the law.”
Harrison said UIL staff is “more than willing” to work with lawmakers to “review that law and consider whether or not that law needs to be reviewed and considered for change.”
‘Makes absolutely no sense’
Medical and transgender experts said they believe Beggs should not be competing against girls.
“Wanting him to compete with girls is going against best practices and guidelines that are already established by organizations like the NCAA,” said Dr. Robert Garofalo, division head of adolescent medicine and director of the gender and sex development program at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Eric Vilain, professor of human genetics and pediatrics at UCLA, called the UIL’s birth-certificate rule “twisted logic” and said, “This case makes absolutely no sense to not allow this athlete to compete with boys.”
There was palpable resentment throughout the tournament, if not from rival wrestlers who mostly congratulated and hugged Beggs, then from their families and coaches, whose stern looks when asked to comment served as an ample substitute for words they chose not to speak publicly.
One notable exception came from a coach of a girl wrestler who competed in the 110-pound division. She said Beggs’ championship is not the product of a physical advantage over his competitors. But the coach also believes the UIL should allow Beggs to wrestle boys, but not because of his use of testosterone.
“If that’s what he wants to do, let him do that,” she said, noting she was not able to speak publicly because of her school district’s policy. “Any girl can go and lift weights and be as muscular as Mack is and be just as strong.”
Beggs also had a supporter in Arlington Bowie boys wrestler Adam Kilgore, who works independently with Trinity’s coach Clark.
“Mack’s good. There’s nothing like winning a state title and no matter what that shouldn’t be taken away from you,” Kilgore said. “My thing to Mack is, ignore that (expletive), ignore it, it’s not worth it.”