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Forfeiting their shot

SPORTS | Five girl athletes in West Virginia sacrificed a chance at a title to protest a male competitor

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Forfeiting their shot
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FEMALE middle school athletes in West Virginia refused last month to put up with a court decision letting a boy compete against them in track and field.

Two days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued a ruling letting a 13-year-old boy compete as a girl in interscholastic athletics in the Mountain State, five female shot putters at the Harrison County middle school track and field championships protested that boy’s presence among them. Video of the April 18 event, posted on the conservative-­leaning sports website Outkick, showed the girls taking turns entering the throwers’ ring, lifting their heavy metal balls to their shoulders as they walk to the 4-inch-high toe board, then turning and exiting without making a throw.

The male competitor—who goes by the name Becky Pepper-Jackson, takes puberty blockers and estrogen hormone therapy, and has competed exclusively on girls’ sports teams since elementary school—didn’t get West Virginia’s law protecting girls’ sports overturned entirely. However, the eighth grader’s lawyers convinced the 4th Circuit to give him an exception to compete in his chosen gender category.

At an April 24 news conference attended by all five protesting middle schoolers, 14-year-old Emmy Salerno of Lincoln Middle School in Shinnston said the decision to forgo a shot at a county title was tough for herself and her fellow athletes.

“Believe me, all of my friends would have loved to help me out, but they are such strong competitors, and I don’t blame them,” said Salerno. “Luckily, I found four lovely young girls willing to take a stand with me.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who stood alongside Salerno, vowed to appeal the 4th Circuit’s ruling.

Pepper-Jackson won the shot put at the championship meet with a throw of 32 feet, 9 inches.

Because of the female students’ protest, school officials barred them from competing at a subsequent meet on April 27, citing an unwritten scratch rule.

This is an updated version of the story that appears in the print issue.

Zhang Yufei

Zhang Yufei Petr David Josek/AP

Swimming above board?

The Chinese government cleared 23 swimmers to compete at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo despite the swimmers testing positive for a banned drug, according to a New York Times investigation. The World Anti-Doping Agency admitted in an April 20 response to the Times reporting that it had secretly accepted the China Anti-Doping Agency’s June 2021 explanation that the swimmers tested positive for the banned drug TMZ “after inadvertently being exposed to the substance through contamination.”

Olivier Rabin, WADA’s senior director of science and medicine, said WADA found China’s report believable due to the “consistently low concentrations as well as no doping pattern.” WADA has appointed a special prosecutor to review its handling of the case.

Among the swimmers who tested positive is gold medalist Zhang Yufei, who set an Olympic record in the women’s 200-meter butterfly in Tokyo. Zhang is expected to contend for medals again at this summer’s Paris Olympics. —R.H.

Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.



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