Going to the Mat

A PBS Film Looks at a Girl Wrestler

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When Tara Neal was 13, she wanted to wrestle. She donned her singlet, stepped onto the mat, and faced her opponent—who was almost always a boy.

Ms. Neal, of Cedar Park, Texas, often won. But some male opponents and their parents didn’t think girls and boys should wrestle each other.

A new documentary by University of Texas lecturer Diane Zander chronicles Ms. Neal’s life during a season of wrestling and the challenges she faced both inside and outside the gym.

Tara Neal
Tara Neal gets prematch help from her father, James.
—Diane Zander/ITVS

“Girl Wrestler,” a 60-minute documentary, is scheduled to air on Public Broadcasting Service stations on Dec. 14. Viewers should check their local listings.

In the film, Ms. Neal deals with the divorce of her parents, pressure from her father to succeed, and the imperative of cutting weight. She also learns about objections some wrestlers have to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

When Ms. Neal makes it to a national tournament in Fresno, Calif., she hears opposition to Title IX.

In 2002, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige formed a commission to study how Title IX was working, but he ultimately chose to make no significant changes in the way the law is enforced.

Though Ms. Neal wrestled well during her early teen years, the Texas University Interscholastic League prohibits girls from wrestling boys at the high school level. When she got to Cedar Park High School, Ms. Neal joined the wrestling team, but with no other girls to wrestle, she sat on the sidelines.

Ultimately, she quit wrestling.

But in the film she expresses hopes for the future of the sport. “Eventually, there’s going to be more girls, and everybody’s going to be OK with it,” she says. “It’s just going to be a normal thing.”

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 6

Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Going to the Mat

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