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Duke athlete 'upset' HB2 forced NCAA to move championships from North Carolina

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EJ Proctor had dreams of winning a national championship for Duke in her home state. Now she says the state legislature and governor have stolen that dream from her.

EJ Proctor has started over 30 games in goal for the Duke Blue Devils.
EJ Proctor has started over 30 games in goal for the Duke Blue Devils.
Shane Lardinois

On Monday night Duke soccer goalie EJ Proctor received news that "upset" her: North Carolina's governor and legislature stole the chance for her to win a national title in her home state.

The NCAA announced it is moving its championships out of the state of North Carolina during the 2016-17 school year because of HB2, the state's discriminatory law targeting members of the LGBT community. Relocating men's basketball games received the most attention, but also among the seven championships moved is the Division I women's soccer championship, which was scheduled to be held in Cary, N.C., for a second consecutive year.

Proctor feels conflicted about the NCAA announcement, being both an athlete in North Carolina and a member of the LGBT community.

Proctor, who chooses not to label her sexuality, has been in a relationship with a woman for more than a year and said she supports the NCAA's decision "100 percent."

The Duke junior also possesses great memories from playing in Cary last year when the Blue Devils women's soccer team reached the national title game, and Proctor's family and friends could easily attend. Duke is currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation and again has a shot at a national title.

"It was so cool because everyone could be a part of that," said Proctor, a native of Wilson, N.C., a city of 50,000 people smack between Greenville and Raleigh.

She would have liked a second chance to win a national title in her home state, but she expected the NCAA to move the Women's College Cup after the NBA moved its All-Star Game and schools like Albany canceled games against teams in North Carolina. The timing of the announcement took her by surprise, coming over a month after Duke started its season.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the only teammates Proctor had talked to about the NCAA decision were her roommates. The team did not have practice Monday or Tuesday this week.

"I'm happy that the NCAA is making a stand," Proctor said. "I knew there was talk, but I was anxious to see if they would follow through."

Duke, as a private university, is not directly affected by HB2, and Proctor says the City of Durham felt accepting before and after HB2. But she knows people in her hometown of Wilson who support HB2, and she hopes the NCAA's action can help people become more educated about the LGBT community.

Since coming out to her teammates, Proctor has received their unanimous support. Proctor told her teammates, during a whitewater-rafting trip before the 2015 season, that she was dating a woman, a relationship that started a couple months earlier.

The 5-foot-8 goalie started all 25 games as a sophomore last season, helping Duke match the deepest postseason run in program history.

"I was able to come out to a team and a school where it's not a problem," Proctor said. "I felt so lucky to be in that environment, and then, we have this incredible season. Everything that I could have wanted in my life, I had that."

Duke finished as national runner-up for the third time in school history with a 1-0 loss to Penn State in the 2015 title game. That came after Duke beat defending champion and No. 1-ranked Florida State in the semifinal, which provided Proctor her favorite moment from the College Cup: Toni Payne scoring to put Duke up 2-0 with one second remaining.

"Some of [the Florida State] players just fell to their knees, and with one second left, they didn't get back up," Proctor said. "I was just shaking with excitement, but I was also so relaxed because I knew that we had done it."

So far this season, Proctor has started every game and logged three shutouts for No. 9-ranked Duke (5-2-1 overall).

If a moment like Payne's goal happens in the 2016 College Cup, it won't be in Proctor's home state, and she is OK with that if it ends discriminatory legislation.

"Athletics are the way to make those statements, especially in a place like North Carolina where you have Duke and UNC," Proctor said. "We live and breathe basketball here. If you make a stand through something that so many people love and respect, that's the most that anyone can do."

You can find EJ Proctor on Twitter and Instagram @EJ_Proctor.

Erik Hall is a member of NLGJA — the association of LGBTQ journalists. He can be reached on Twitter @HallErik or by email hallerik7@gmail.com.