In a landmark move, the Wrestling Rules Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations recommended separate interscholastic wrestling weight classes for girls. Beginning with the 2023-24 season, states will have a choice of 12, 13 or 14 weight classes for both boys’ and girls' competition.
States must select one of the three sets (12, 13 or 14) of weight classes for girls and one of the three sets (12, 13 or 14) for boys. They cannot adopt all three sets, nor will they be permitted to switch back and forth during the season.
The following weight classes (in pounds) were established for girls’ wrestling competition, effective July 1, 2023:
- 12 Weight Classes: 100, 107, 114, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 165, 185, 235
- 13 Weight Classes: 100, 106, 112, 118, 124, 130, 136, 142, 148, 155, 170, 190, 235
- 14 Weight Classes: 100, 105, 110, 115, 120, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 155, 170, 190, 235
All recommendations were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.
“We have more and more state associations sponsoring girls’ wrestling and holding state championships for girls, so the committee believed it was time to establish uniform weight classifications for girls,” Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the federation’s Wrestling Rules Committee, said in a statement. “The recommended weights were established based upon more than 215,000 assessments from the National Wrestling Coaches Association. We are excited about these changes to weight classes in high school wrestling, as we believe it will provide more opportunities for male and female student-athletes to be involved in this great sport.”
According to the 2018-19 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey (the latest year for which full participation figures are available), the number of female wrestlers increased by almost 5,000 over the previous school year. More than 21,120 girls from 2,890 schools competed. Back in 1994, that number was barely more than 800.
The National Wrestling Coaches Association claims girls’ and women’s wrestling is one of the fastest-growing sports at the high school and college levels. TheOpenMat.com, which covers amateur wrestling, notes that as of March 31, 30 high school state associations now sanction girls’ wrestling — including North Dakota, where state association officials recently approved the sport, effective with the 2021-22 school year.
“This figure is up by a whopping 24 states since 2018,” the site reports.
Here is a list of states thatsanction girls’ wrestling: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin.
“I’ve talked to 15 or 20 states that have sponsored [girls’] wrestling, and they see anywhere from a 300 percent increase to a 600 percent increase that first year from when they don’t sponsor it to when they do,” Kevin Morast, assistant director of the North Dakota High School Activities Association, told The Dickinson Press.
“I think our numbers will grow exponentially,” agreed Travis Lemar, athletic director and wrestling coach at Central Cass High School in Casselton, N.D. “I think one of the biggest hurdles for girls in the sport of wrestling is not having their own division. I think that can hold a lot of girls back, because they don’t want to wrestle boys. Now having their own division, it opens up the door for a lot of girls in the state of North Dakota.”
The door is opening elsewhere, too, as Nebraska, Florida and Iowa are among the states mulling the addition of girls’ wrestling.
The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) Board of Directors is expected to decide in May whether to elevate the sport from “emerging” status to officially sanctioned status. In February, 178 girls from 64 schools participated in a girls’ tournament sponsored by the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association — up from 115 girls representing 37 schools in 2020.
“NSAA executive director Jay Bellar wanted to give his staff and the wrestling committee time to put together details on a state championship date, venue and format, as well as the number of classes, before holding a vote of the board,” according to the Lincoln Journal-Star.
“We’ve got really strong programs and good participation in the northeast part of the state,” board member Jon Cerny, who also is superintendent at Bancroft-Rosalie School, told the paper. “The numbers keep exploding. And the schools I see that are very successful are also very diverse. A lot of these kids are minority kids who are participating in a sport and having success.”
Meanwhile, the Florida High School Athletic Association in late April opted to table a discussion about sanctioning girls’ wrestling until June, when “further information can be provided on how many schools field teams,” according to The Gainesville Sun.
In Iowa, Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-Le Claire, introduced a bill referencing the growth of girls’ wrestling in her state — more than 450 girls from more than 100 schools wrestled at the 2021 high school state championships — and urging the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) to sanction the sport. The organization is the only state activity association in the country “solely devoted to promoting, directing and regulating interscholastic athletics for junior high and high school girls,” according to its website. #SantionIA also began appearing on Twitter.
“It’s ridiculous that we don’t have [girls' wrestling] when California, they have it. Illinois has it. Texas has it. A large number of states have sanctioned the … sport,” Robert Pittman, wrestling coach at Charles City High School, told Mason City’s Globe Gazette, although he understands the hesitation. “Change is hard. I think there’s a little bit of it where people have to wrap their heads around girls’ wrestling. … [But] any girl that participates in wrestling gains confidence. Gains confidence in who they are, gains confidence in their ability to overcome challenges and gains confidence in their own physicality. They realize they don’t have to be timid.”