photo courtesy of Chris Mora; Tech-Fall.com
Last week women’s wrestling received good news at the collegiate level as women’s wrestling was added to the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women Program at the DI level. Down a notch, in high school, positive reports have been flowing by the month from various states that have sanctioned wrestling as an official sport for girls. So many states have adopted girls’ wrestling over the past couple of months, it may be hard to keep track of them all. We’ve gone through and broken down the new additions.
With Illinois aboard last week, almost half (24) of the 50 states will hold an official girls’ state championship event in 2020-21. Illinois has long been one of the top states on the freestyle and Greco-Roman circuit at the high school level. One would think that once girls are allowed to compete in an official state tournament, the state’s production will skyrocket. There will be ample opportunities for the girls of Illinois to compete at the next level as the Land of Lincoln will have its fifth collegiate program take the mat in 2021-22 (Aurora), as well.
Another significant addition was Florida. The Sunshine State has had some success in freestyle and tends to churn out some quality wrestlers each year. With the sport being offered in high school for girls and the opportunity to compete for a state title, those numbers will undoubtedly increase sooner rather than later. The next step will be getting a collegiate program for the girls of Florida. Currently, there are none.
Montana will also hold their first sanctioned state championship in 2020-21. While Montana doesn’t have the population numbers and the success on the boys’ side that Illinois and Florida see, it’s crucial to grow the sport in that part of the country. Montana currently has a collegiate program in Providence.
Nebraska will hold its first girls’ state tournament in 2020-21 and has three years to get to sanctioning status. I’m eager to see how the sport grows here. Currently, Nebraska has a robust crop of high schoolers on the boys’ side. With more girls involved in the sports, it’s not unreasonable to expect Nebraska could make a national impact there, as well. The 2020-21 season will see Nebraska’s third women’s collegiate program get underway, as Hastings will join Midland and York.
In April, Oklahoma voted to sanction girls wrestling as a high school sport and will host their first official state tournament next year. On the strength of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, wrestling has a long tradition in the state, so there will be plenty of daughters of former wrestlers that will be more apt to partake in the sport going forward. One of the more storied women’s programs at the collegiate level is also in-state at Oklahoma City.
It appears that Ohio is close to joining the team, too. The OHSWCA (Ohio HS Wrestling Coaches Association) will hold a girls’ state tournament next year and the OHSAA has taken notice. In the past, the OHSWCA hosted the boys’ dual state tournament, then handed it off to the OHSAA when they were ready to host the event. It goes without saying how crucial it would be to get Ohio in the mix. Even without official sanctioning, the state has put out some of the top wrestlers in the nation over the past few seasons (McKayla Campbell, Leilah Castro, Olivia Shore). The sport is also growing on the collegiate side in Ohio, as Tiffin was the first school to offer women’s wrestling in 2018-19. This year two more programs will offer wrestling for the first time, Lourdes and Hiram.
I’ve often said that the saying from the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” applies to girls HS wrestling sanctioning. “If you build it, they will come”. Give the girls the opportunity to compete, they’ll turn out in numbers much greater than any administrator can anticipate. Look no further than Missouri for proof. They held their first official state tournament in February of 2019 and in July, they had an amazing performance in Fargo. Seven Juniors earned All-American honors while eight did so at the 16U level. A year earlier, only two Juniors made the medal stand along with four Cadets. 2016 saw the state with only three total AA’s combined and in 2014, there was only one. More interest at the high school level, leads to more girls pursuing the sport at the club level and more training partners. As the old saying goes, “Iron sharpens Iron”. More girls at the club level, leads to more of them entering tournaments like Fargo, Women’s National’s, and the Super 32. With more bodies in these tournaments, anything can happen, as evidenced by Missouri’s
We should also focus our attention on some of the notable states that have yet to sanction girls HS wrestling. Yes, we’re looking at you, Iowa, New York, and Pennsylvania. You too, Michigan and Minnesota! My home, the Commonwealth of Virginia? For those in the aforementioned states and others, we haven’t called out, keep fighting the good fight. The tide seems to be slowly turning in favor of girls wrestling at the high school level and also towards the women in college.