Holy ghosts haunt story of Colorado high school wrestler who wouldn't compete against girl

In reading about a Colorado high school wrestler who declined to compete against a girl, I couldn’t help but think that holy ghost — as we call them here at GetReligion — might be haunting the story.

I first caught this recent news via Yahoo! Sports, which made no reference at all to religion in writing about Brendan Johnson.

Curious, I clicked the Yahoo! link to the original source material from the Denver Post.

Here’s the deal: On one hand, the Denver Post piece is extremely compelling and readable.

Let’s start with a big chunk of the opening (more text than I usually copy and paste) because it really sets the scene:

Once the curveball leaves life’s fingertips, the swinging part is up to you. The way Judy Johnston tells it, she just happened to snatch the first open seat she saw near the floor of the gymnasium at Legend High School in Parker last month. What she didn’t know at the time was that the open seat just happened to be next to the one occupied by Angel Rios’ mother, Cher. Or that Angel, a junior 106-pound wrestler at Valley High in Gilcrest, just happened to draw a matchup against her son, Brendan, a senior wrestler from The Classical Academy.

Or how Cher was going to react once she heard Brendan wouldn’t wrestle a woman. Not now. Not ever.

“It was a fluke,” Johnston recalls from a stairwell inside the Pepsi Center during the 2019 Colorado High School Activities Association State Wrestling Tournament. “I had been told Angel is really good, she wants to go the Olympics, so we knew a little about her. And the (Valley) coach came by and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ And Angel came over to her mom and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ She was disappointed. Her mom was disappointed. And me not being able to turn away from a challenging conversation…”

With Cher fuming, Judy introduced herself.

“Well,” she said, words dancing carefully to avoid stepping on any toes, “my son happens to be the one that’s forfeiting.’”

“Why is he doing that?” Cher replied.

“She explained why she felt disrespected,” Johnston recalled. “I said, ‘I totally understand that.’ I said, ‘I know she’s worked hard, but he feels it’s not appropriate to interact with a woman that way, to be physical on or off the mat, at this stage in life.

“So I kind of explained my side. It took a while, but she was able to kind of say, ‘Yeah, I kind of see your point.’ I wished her well and wished Angel well. And that was the end of it.”

Only it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

If you’re like me, you’re really intrigued at that point and want to know what happens next — and why.

The Denver Post answers some of the most obvious questions.

But about those holy ghosts I mentioned earlier? Yes, this otherwise exceptional feature is haunted, except for this one vague, unexplored reference to Johnston’s faith:

Johnston is forever a part of Colorado state tournament lore now. He’s cool with that. His decision to forfeit twice at the 2019 state tourney — effectively eliminating himself from a competition he had a solid shot at winning — on personal and religious grounds rather than wrestle two girl competitors, may divide your inner circle right down the middle. He’s cool with that, too.

And see if a particular word might be missing here:

There are bigger things than state tournament wrestling.”

There’s college next year: Johnston has looked into competing at Division III Wheaton College, a private school in the Chicago suburbs. 

Hmmmm. A private school? Any particular type of private school?

Might it be that Wheaton is an “explicitly Christian” institution that is “sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools.”

Give credit to the Washington Post, which recently did its own writeup on Johnson and didn’t miss the faith angle:

“There is something that I really do find problematic about the idea of wrestling with a girl, and a part of that does come from my faith and my belief,” said Johnston, who identifies as Christian and said he attends the International Anglican Church in Colorado Springs. “And a part of that does come from how I was raised to treat women as well as maybe from different experiences and things.”

Bingo.

See how easy that was?

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