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TWO OF T. J. Kerr's wrestlers are out in the hallway. This is
evident first from the sound of their voices and then from the
smell of perfume wafting into the coach's office. Then come the
visual cues. Two wrestlers wearing dresses appear in the doorway.

Kerr is unfazed. He glances up from his desk and nods. "Make
sure you're here on time for practice," he says. "Two-thirty."

As the head wrestling coach at Cal State-Bakersfield since 1985,
Kerr has produced an NCAA champion and an Olympian, and has won
a Division II title, and he knows such achievements don't occur
without practice. His wrestlers understand. "Two-thirty!" one of
them says, and then the two women head on down the hall.

Here in the John B. Antonino Wrestling Complex--a squat, nearly
windowless bunker at the back of the Bakersfield campus--the
walls are covered with photographs of wrestlers in various
states of stress who are pretzeled, bloodied, bruised and
dominant. But in this bastion of masculinity one is not puzzled
by the sight of the coach knocking on his own bathroom door. "It
is the coaches' locker room, but the women use it too," explains
Kerr, rapping lightly. "Around here it's always a good idea to

This fall 16 women became members of the Bakersfield men's
varsity wrestling team. Girls wrestle on boys' teams in high
school, and USA Wrestling--the governing body of the amateur
sport--has 1,520 female members and a national women's team.
There are college wrestling clubs for women, and in the past a
few women have joined men's college teams. But Bakersfield's
program represents women's strongest push under way, and it has
put this 4,124-student college located in a dusty oil and
farming town at the forefront of the effort to make women's
wrestling a varsity sport.

Kerr originally championed the right of college women to wrestle
for one reason: He wanted to save his men's team. The
cumbersomely named California National Organization for Women
and California State University Consent Decree states that all
California state university systems must offer men and women
proportional opportunity in athletics. At Bakersfield, where 62%
of the students are women, all-male sports are in a precarious

Kerr, who is president of the National Wrestling Coaches
Association, started looking for options two years ago. He found
he couldn't start a women's team because the NCAA doesn't
recognize women's wrestling as a sport. Besides, there weren't
any women's college teams to wrestle against. NCAA regulations
did, however, allow for mixed teams.

So Kerr, a practical fellow, took action. In the spring of 1994
he began recruiting women, and he hasn't stopped since. Kerr has
stumped furiously and endlessly, pitching the merits of his
nascent program to women in an aerobics class he taught; to
reluctant parents; and, via letter last summer, to every
incoming female undergrad.

But not everybody readily accepts the idea of women wrestling.
"You've got to be kidding me," junior Erin Kelly, a former high
school tennis player who now wrestles at 103 pounds, told her
then boyfriend when he suggested last year that she join Kerr's
squad. Jessica Ramsey, a junior who wrestles at 110 pounds,
screws up her face. "I thought, Wrestling? You mean all the
grappling? Close contact? Ick."

Tom Brand, the father of sophomore wrestler Kris Brand, admits
that when his daughter came home from her Fresno, Calif., high
school one day two years ago and announced that she wanted to
join the boys' team, "it wasn't what I imagined my little girl
would do." But he is thrilled with the idea now and happy that
Kris is able to continue to wrestle in college.

In the spring of '94, when Bakersfield administrators got wind
of Kerr's plans to bring women onto the team, they told him to
stop recruiting immediately. Like any innovator, Kerr sized up
the roadblocks then skirted them or blasted through them. He
encouraged women to enroll in the physical-education class in
which he taught wrestling. ("You can't prevent a woman from
taking a P.E. class," he says.) He started a wrestling club.
("The rules say clubs can't discriminate.") Then he persuaded
the school's intercollegiate athletic advisory committee to
recommend to the university president that women be allowed on
the men's wrestling team. Last December, after administrators
stalled in deciding whether to count women as members of the
team, several of the women filed a student-rights grievance.

The administrators caved in, agreeing to allow women on the
men's team beginning in the fall of '95 with two stipulations:
that the wrestling budget would not be increased, and that
before the season began, Kerr's men and women would have to
undergo "sensitivity training" so that they would be aware of
behavior that constituted sexual harassment.

According to Kerr, the women weren't told much they didn't
already know. "They had this list of differences between men and
women," Kerr says of the sensitivity trainers. "You look down it
and there's one line that says men have thicker skulls than
women. So the women said, 'Exactly!'"

The few women on Kerr's team who wrestled in high school had
already learned a few things about their male counterparts. "The
idea of women wrestling can be hard for them," says freshman
Abielle Schwarzberg, who was the only girl on her high school
wrestling team in Huntington Woods, Mich. Of high school boys
she says, "They're still bumping into things, they're all goofy.
They don't know what to do about anything, especially girls."

The men on the Cal State-Bakersfield team, however, did know
something about women, and this made them nervous. "Initially we
thought there might be problems," says senior Derek Scott. "You
know, women are a lot more sensitive than men."

Kerr forbids dating between team members. And Schwarzberg
addresses the electric question--what Kerr calls "the sex
thing"--bluntly. "It's silly," she says. "When you're in the
wrestling room, something just turns off. If I'm wrestling a
guy, I'm not thinking I'd like to go out with him Friday night.
That doesn't even cross your mind, especially when somebody's
beating you up."

Last winter the women occasionally shared the men's varsity
facilities, and now that the women have varsity status, they are
entitled to their own locker room, tutors and the other
resources that the men enjoy.

Because the Bakersfield women prefer freestyle wrestling to
collegiate style (in the former, risk-taking maneuvers such as
high-amplitude throws are rewarded, while the latter emphasizes
control through holding or riding one's opponent), this season
they plan to take part only in USA Wrestling-sponsored events.
Early this month the team traveled to Tempe, Ariz., for an
international meet, in which Bakersfield's best finisher was
Seba Clemente, who took third place in the 97-pound division.
The team has five more regular meets scheduled through March.

Many members of the college wrestling community have been
watching Bakersfield with great interest. "Initially, I think
there was some real hesitation," says Chris Horpel, head
wrestling coach at Stanford. "A lot of coaches wondered if
bringing women onto the team was just a trick to get notoriety
or to save Kerr's program. But it's obvious he's doing it in
earnest, that this is a legitimate attempt to establish women's
wrestling at the college level."

Other colleges have followed Bakersfield's example, in part out
of fear of Title IX regulations similar to those in the
California consent decree. In September the University of
Minnesota at Morris okayed funding for a separate women's
varsity team, and about 25 other schools (including Cornell, UC
Davis and Nebraska) have established women's varsity or club
teams or taken at least one woman onto their men's squads.
However, because 40 colleges must participate in a sport before
it can receive NCAA status, the national collegiate women's
championships that Morris will host in March 1997 will be

While Kerr labors toward a day when colleges field women's
wrestling teams and coaches can barge into their own bathrooms
without knocking, his wrestlers have more immediate plans.
Sitting in Kerr's office before practice, Schwarzberg sighs.
"It's really hard," she says. "Sometimes you wonder what you're
doing here. I can't tell you the number of times that I wanted
to break down and cry. But I never did, because it seemed like
we had a purpose."

Schwarzberg eyes the photos that line the walls. "Look at all
these champions," she says. "When I look at these pictures, they
just call out. I want my picture up there too."

Freelance writer Ken McAlpine lives in Ventura, Calif., and
often writes about the outdoors.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK High school experience makes Brand (top) and Schwarzberg relative experts on the new team. [Kris Brand wrestling Abielle Schwarzberg]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECKAt a recent practice Kerr watched ex-tennis player Kelly (with braid) womanhandle Clemente. [T. J. Kerr watching Erin Kelly and Seba Clemente wrestle]