Participation in high school sports increased for the 28th consecutive year in 2016-17. Those numbers were bolstered by the largest one-year increase in girls’ participation in 16 years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Part of that increase likely can be attributed to more girls in wrestling programs around the country. Almost 3,000 schools (2,091) reported having at least one female wrestler, according to the NFHS. That’s 150 more than in 2015-16. What’s more, the number of female wrestlers between 2012-13 and 2016-17 increased from 8,727 to nearly 14,600.
“I always wanted to do a combat sport,” Raquel Rojano, a sophomore at Reagan High School in Milwaukee told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelearlier this month. “I’m surrounded by people who want to win and have the same goals as me and it’s not only helping me become a better person, but my mindset has changed, too. I think more positively. ... Even when I lose, there is nothing I’d rather be doing.”
Incidentally, Reagan not only boasts 12 female wrestlers — more than any other high school in Wisconsin — but also a female assistant coach.
“I just like wrestling — you need discipline and your teammates are like a family,” Alexa Flores, a senior at La Follette High School in Madison, Wis., told the Wisconsin State Journal.“I find that it is something cathartic to do. I’m not aggressive [away from the mat]. But it is my happy place. I can take my mind away from everything.”
For the first time in 45 years, Wisconsin’s annual Badger State Invitational wrestling tournament in December offered a girls’ division as part of a pilot program through the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association and the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation. According to the athletic director from one Madison-area high school, the number of female wrestlers has increased in states offering a girls’ division in high-profile events.
That’s what officials in Ogden, Iowa, are counting on. In early January, the town hosted a girls’ high school wrestling tournament that was thought to be the first of its kind in the state. A total of 11 girls attended, none of whom had to wrestle boys.
“I felt the tournament went well and the wrestlers were very happy and proud of the day,” Jesse Sundell, head wrestling coach at Ogden High School, said in an email to the Des Moines Register. “We seemed to get very good reception and recognition from it. Everyone that was there was very happy to see us put the event on and hoped for more success in the future.”
According to the Des Moines Register, four years ago, only 37 girls wrestled in Iowa — a hotbed for the sport. In 2016-17, 92 girls participated in the sport.
Girls’ wrestling is sanctioned by state athletic associations in only six states. In states like Iowa and Wisconsin, where girls’ wrestling is not sanctioned, girls must compete with boys’ unless girls’-only tournaments or divisions are specified.
A proposal to make girls’ wrestling an official sport in Wisconsin is on the table, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “It would have to be discussed with and through the standard committee process, beginning with the wrestling coaches advisory committee, following the 2017-18 season,” Todd Clark, communications director for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, told the newspaper. “Any idea or ‘proposal’ would not be considered without first being discussed by the various levels of committees next spring.”
“It’s not a question of if, it’s when [for Wisconsin],” West Allis Hale High School coach and WWCA president Randy Ferrell told the Wausau Daily Herald. “If it was up to me, I would have it for the girls for the 18-19 season, but we all know things take time.”