Carpenter/Scarlett/Huron grad recalls ground-breaking career in wrestling

In 1975, Tricia McNaughton’s family took the Amateur Athletic Union to federal court for the right to compete against boys—and won

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

On today’s AAPS social media pages, we posted a Throwback Thursday feature and asked: Who is this Carpenter Elementary student circa 1975, and in which sport was she a Very Big Deal?

And the answer is:

This is Carpenter Elementary student Tricia McNaughton. She was one of the best young wrestlers in the state, and in 1975, her family took the Amateur Athletic Union to federal court for the right to compete against boys.

She won and then proceeded to take on the wrestling world.

Later, Tricia McNaughton Saunders—a 1984 Huron High School—competed for the USA in the finals of the FILA Wrestling World Championships five times, winning four golds and a silver, and became the first woman inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.  

Tricia McNaughton Saunders is shown competing for the U.S.A. in the World Championships in 2001 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

She is also currently the only American woman to be inducted into the FILA (UWW) International Wrestling Hall of Fame).

Women’s wrestling became an Olympic sport in 2004, and Saunders was one of the coaches in Athens. She now lives in Phoenix and is a physician assistant at Barrow Brain and Spine.

Via phone and text, we asked:

Q: Do you believe a love of and talent for wrestling is in your DNA?

YES!  My grandfather, father, and both brothers were wrestlers. 🙂

Q: What will you always remember about the lawsuit against the Amateur Athletic Union?

A: I will always remember the strong conviction of my mother, Carol Burton, the intelligence and confidence of my attorney, Jean Ledwith King, and the support of my father, Jim McNaughton, brothers Andy and Jamie McNaughton, family and wrestling teammates of the Ann Arbor Wrestling Warriors.  

I also remember that I was not surprised at the verdict.  I was told that girls shouldn’t wrestle because they were not capable of doing the sport and would just get hurt trying. I knew these things were not true, and was just glad the adults eventually figured things out. 👍

Q: Were your teachers at Carpenter supportive?

Yes! I especially remember Helen Oliver (my favorite teacher ever) and Gayle Lohr (PE) were always wonderfully supportive of me.  John Nordlinger led my youth club. He was a fantastic leader/coach and a huge support for me and my family.

Q: What about your years at Scarlett and Huron? Did you wrestle then? Was it difficult being a girl in a traditionally boys’ sport?

The Ann Arbor Schools did not allow me to wrestle. 🙁 I did gymnastics, track, cheerleading, and softball.

Q: Last year, 254 wrestlers representing 133 high schools competed at the Michigan Michigan Wrestling Association Girls Wresting state finals. Your thoughts on how the sport has evolved since you attended Huron High School?

A: I love to see wrestling’s opportunities and lessons become available to all Michigan athletes!  Girls’ wrestling is the fastest-growing high school sport in the country. I love it!

Q: Is wrestling still a big part of your life?

A: Yes. I still do some coaching,  clinics, and talks with athletes on my club team and with the US National teams. I am also a HUGE fan of both Women’s and Men’s wrestling!  

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