A 17-year-old transgender boy completed an undefeated season Saturday by winning a controversial Texas state girls wrestling title in an event clouded by criticism from those who believe the testosterone he's taking as he transitions from female to male created an unfair advantage.
The family of Mack Beggs has said he would rather be wrestling boys, but state policy calls for students to wrestle against the gender listed on their birth certificates. So the junior from Euless Trinity beat Chelsea Sanchez 12-2 in the 110-pound weight class to improve to 56-0 and earn the championship.
Flanked by his teammates after the team won second place in Class 6A, the largest division in Texas, Beggs broke his silence.
"I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for my teammates," he said. "That's honestly what the spotlight should have been on, is my teammates. The hard work that I put in in the practice room with them, beside me — we trained hard every, single day. Every, single day, and that's where the spotlight should have been on. Not me. All of these guys. Because I would not be here without them."
He then lifted the gold medal hanging on his neck to the assembled cameras and shared a parting thought after all that he'd been through this weekend.
"Hard work ethic pays off," he said. "Just saying."
Beggs fell to his knees for a moment after the win as a mixture of cheers and boos rained down on him. He then hugged his coach and left the mat.
He had a bit of fun with his fellow wrestlers at the medal ceremony when he counted down from three and all six of the top finishers posed by doing a dab on the medal stand.
Beggs, who reached the state tournament after two opponents forfeited, was dogged throughout the event by questions about whether his testosterone treatments made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls.
The University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletics in Texas public schools, enacted the birth certificate policy Aug. 1. And while Beggs' family has said he wanted to compete against boys, UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison, who refused to address Beggs directly, said they had not received a request to change divisions from any athlete at this competition.
Harrison believes that the outcome of the tournament was fair, despite concerns about Beggs.
"Nothing that has happened at this year's wrestling championships has the UIL reconsidering its rules because quite frankly we don't believe that any issues being reported on are really a product of UIL rules," he said.
Beggs pinned Kailyn Clay earlier Saturday to reach the final. That was after he beat Taylor Latham and Mya Engert handily on Friday to reach the semifinals.
In the semifinals, the match was halted for a couple of minutes because Beggs had a bloody nose. Trainers finally managed to stop the bleeding and the fight resumed. Not long after, Beggs slammed Clay on the mat and pinned her.
He and Clay shared a long hug before an official raised Beggs' arm to signal victory, and the wrestler scurried off the mat. Clay's coach shouted to reporters that she "did not have permission" to talk to them after her loss, and both of her parents declined comment.
Beggs' participation comes at a crucial moment, with the public and politicians debating the growing belief that gender is fluid. Just this week, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections that allowed transgender students to use facilities based on their gender identity, leaving states and school districts to determine their own policies.
And in Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill similar to HB2, the North Carolina law that prompted the NBA to move this year's All-Star Game out of that state. If passed, the Texas version, called SB6, would require transgender people to use the bathroom of their "biological sex."
Attorney Jim Baudhuin tried and failed to get injunctions before both the district and regional meets to prevent Beggs from competing while he transitions because he is taking testosterone. Baudhuin, who is the parent of a wrestler at another school who has never faced Beggs, told The Associated Press earlier this week he doesn't blame Beggs for the situation, but faults the UIL.
"The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she's just trying to live her life and her family is, too," Baudhuin said. "She's being forced into that position. Who knows, through discovery we may find out that's not the case. But every indication is, the way the winds are going now, the blame rests with the UIL and the superintendents."
Despite criticism of the policy, UIL executives don't envision a change.
"Ninety-five percent of the school superintendents in Texas voted for the rule as it was proposed, which was to use birth certificates," Harrison said. "So any rule can be reconsidered, but ... given the overwhelming support for that rule, I don't expect it to change anytime soon."