By: Christy Mitchell
My daughter Chelsea is an incredible athlete. And I’m not just saying that out of motherly pride. She has proved it again and again as a two-sport athlete in track and soccer.
But since her freshman year, Chelsea has lost out on recognition for all of her hard work and training because of a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) policy. This policy allows high school boys who identify as girls to compete on girls’ sports teams.
Now, Chelsea is taking a stand with two other female athletes in Connecticut and, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, has filed a lawsuit against the CIAC.
We have dealt with the unfairness of this policy for every year of Chelsea’s high school experience. When this started in her freshman year, I knew that if nothing changed, one day she would be the one who had to deal with losing a state championship. We watched as girl after girl, race after race, in season after season were forced to accept unfair defeat silently.
Chelsea was always impacted in at least one way every season—not medaling, not receiving the medal she earned, not earning points. And, eventually, not being the State Champion. Four times, she lost the State Champion title. And every time, she lost out to a male athlete.
It was heartbreaking.
We would tell her it didn’t matter, that she was the true winner. We would keep a tally in our head of her accomplishments, acknowledging them even if nobody else did. She never quit trying or working hard. And we give her all the credit in the world for that.
Meanwhile, I was working hard, too—researching, writing letters, having meetings, making calls, and advocating to anyone who would listen. But her junior year was quickly approaching, and I knew I couldn’t fix this situation for her in time for it to matter. You see, college coaches usually base their recruiting on your performance in junior year. We wanted her accomplishments to be recognized but knew that a sprint championship was almost certainly out of reach with a male in the race.
And then last spring, unexpectedly, she had the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field after a male athlete in her event was disqualified for a false start.
The change in Chelsea was evident—it was like a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders. She was allowed to just relax and run, with a smile on her face. She flew down the track and posted a time that she had no idea she was capable of. Something had been holding her back, mentally and emotionally. And everyone watching knew it. There were tears and hugs—not just from us, but from strangers, too.
Because of this one false start, things changed for Chelsea.
She won the Connecticut State Championships in the 100-meter dash, her favorite event. A few days later, she also won that event at the New England Championships and was named All-New England in three different events. She did well at the Nationals meet, too, breaking 19 feet in long jump and running another fantastic time in the 100-meter dash. She was awarded the Track Athlete of the Year by the Connecticut Coaches Association. And the Hartford Courant named her not only the Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year but also the Overall Athlete of the Year for all sports for her performance in soccer and track.
A few weeks earlier, the media didn’t even acknowledge her second-place finish at the State Class Meet. All of their coverage for the last two years had been focused on the male athletes dominating girls’ track. Her new personal record in the 100-meter dash put her in a much better recruiting position. And she recently signed a letter of intent to compete on an NCAA Division I track team.
Chelsea is a senior this year, and she is driven to earn the titles she deserves. She did just that recently at the State Class Meet, where she won the 55-meter dash. Interestingly enough, a male athlete in her event was disqualified for a false start.
It’s hard to say whether any of this would have happened if not for a false start—a false start that opened a door and allowed her to step in the spotlight where she rightfully belongs.