Transgender Sophomore Athlete’s Rise in Girls Cross Country Division Ignites Gender Equity Controversy

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Controversy coming out of high school cross country in Maine as one high school sophomore, a biological male, competes in the girls’ division this year. 

Soren Stark-Chessa, who ran in the male division during freshman year, has been transitioning over the last year and began competing in the female division this year.

After ranking 172nd in the 5k as a freshman in the male division, Stark-Chessa is currently ranked 4th in the female division.

In freshman year, Stark-Chessa’s best result at a meet competing against boys was 14th. However, competing against girls as a sophomore, Stark-Chessa has finished in first and second earlier this season.

At a meet in Freeport, Maine, Stark Chessa took the win in a time of 18:55, which was 1:42 faster than the second-place finisher.

At a recent meet, the Maine XC Festival of Champions, this past Saturday, Stark-Chessa finished fifth. This race is arguably the season’s biggest meet, where Stark-Chessa finished 51st the prior year, competing against boys.

As Stark-Chessa came into the finish, a mix of applause and booing was heard. “Way to cheat, bro!” was just one of many negative comments that were also shouted at Stark-Chessa coming into the finish.

Stark-Chessa’s results have sparked debate among parents, students, and school administration. 

One female cross-country runner who competes against Stark-Chessa shared her thoughts with the local press, “It is not fair to a female who has trained hard.  Males are biologically faster than females, with testosterone. They need to run under their biological gender.”

A mother of a Maine runner spoke out as well.

“Men are simply larger, faster, and stronger than their female counterparts.  To compare, the top-ranked female high school runner in all of New England would only be ranked #47th among high school boys in Maine,” she explained.

@catchupnews According to local media, Soren Stark-Chessa would be ranked 172nd among Maine boys, but 5th among the girls #catchupnews #transgender #sports ♬ original sound – CatchUp

The Main Principals Association Handbook includes a section titled ‘Gender Equity and Inclusion Policy’, which explains that athletes “should have the opportunity to participate in MPA activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, unless such participation would result in an unfair athletic advantage.”

A physician whose two children also competed at the most recent race in Maine weighed in, “If a boy, competing in a sporting event, were found to be using performance-enhancing drugs, he would be disqualified due to the presumption of unfair competitive advantage.”

He further said, “If instead, that same boy chose to compete as a girl, he would not only not be disqualified due to his enormous presumptive competitive advantage, he would be lauded, feted, and applauded.”

Transgender Sophomore Athlete's Rise in Girls Cross Country Division Ignites Gender Equity Controversy 1

Stark-Chessa’s school athletics staff speak against the negativity, saying they are proud of all students. 

Susan Sonntag, the school’s athletics director, says, “We support all our students at Maine Coast Waldorf School, and are proud that our students are given the opportunity to participate in all of our school programs.”

Sonntag also comments that the school is adhering to the Maine State Law, which prohibits ‘unlawful educational discrimination’.

Transgender Sophomore Athlete's Rise in Girls Cross Country Division Ignites Gender Equity Controversy 2

This is not the first time there has been controversy surrounding transgender athlete competition in sports.

It echoes similar sentiments to University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who angered many fellow swimmers after standout performances at national competitions after switching to race in the female category.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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