Women’s Wrestling Clears Hurdle in Quest for NCAA Championship Status | Sports Destination Management

Women’s Wrestling Clears Hurdle in Quest for NCAA Championship Status

Mar 17, 2023 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Whether or not it was intentional, the news out of NCAA landed on the International Day of the Woman. More than the requisite 40 colleges now offer women’s wrestling at a varsity level, clearing the first hurdle for women's wrestling to become an official NCAA championship sport.

FloWrestling notes, “There is currently a National Collegiate Women's Wrestling Championship, but it is not sanctioned by the NCAA. Crossing this threshold is an important step for the growth of women's college wrestling.”

And you’d better believe people are excited, particularly considering the number of organizations that have worked for years to reach the milestone.

“With the help of our coalition partners, Wrestle Like a Girl, USA Wrestling, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Coaches Association we are proud to share that 43 teams have reported meeting their divisional Bylaw goals. We also want to express our appreciation of support from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, the NCAA staff and institutional members of that committee for their support of the sport,” Lisa Goddard McGuirk, chair of the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship (NCWWC) Executive Committee, in an interview with Team USA.

Women’s wrestling is expected to open new opportunities, not only to the expansion of the sport worldwide, but to girls and women from underrepresented communities, who will be able to use college wrestling to pursue higher education.

Womens Wrestling
Images courtesy of the NJCAA

But other collegiate organizations weren’t sitting on their hands and waiting for the NCAA to make its announcement; several are actively forging ahead. Take the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), for example. NAIA has already adopted women’s wrestling as a championship sport, and shared information on its inaugural women’s wrestling national championships.

But wait, there’s more. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) hosted their first invitational championship in March, with Dr. Chris Parker, executive director of NCAA, noting he expected the organization to crown a women’s wrestling champion overall (not an invitational) sooner rather than later.

And that’s just the collegiate levels. According to Wikipedia, women's freestyle wrestling has been part of the World Wrestling Championships since 1987 and was first made an Olympic event in the 2004 Olympics. The World Wrestling Championships takes place during non-Olympic years.

At the high school level, growth is also being seen. The NFHS noted, in its most recent participation survey, girls wrestling has continued to surge in popularity with a 50 percent increase since 2018-19 – 21,124 to 31,654 participants. A total of 32 states now offers separate state wrestling championships for girls.

Expect more growth at the event level, with extended age and weight classes being demanded.

And in case you’re wondering, it’s not just the women who are celebrating. Rich Bender Executive Director USA Wrestling, was effusive in his praise when he made his remarks to Team USA:

“USA Wrestling is overjoyed with our great sport reaching this important milestone.  It has been the combined efforts of many that has helped push NCAA Women’s Wrestling to these incredible new heights.  Much work remains as we collectively continue the sport’s advancement by providing more quality collegiate wrestling opportunities for women all across the nation.”

Some sports destinations have already embraced women’s wrestling and are taking an active stance in helping it grow. Placer Valley, California, for example, hosts the Women’s West Coast Tournament of Champions, a home-grown event for female wrestlers at college, high school and middle school levels. Athletes may register as a team or as individuals. The event also offers opportunities for high school wrestlers to meet with prospective college coaches. In 2018, the event was named one of SDM’s Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism.

According to Donna Dotti, director of sales at Placer Valley Tourism, the trend was spotted in its infancy.

"We noticed the emergence of women’s wrestling back in 2013 or so when our very own Del Oro High School’s Wrestling Team was seeing an influx of girls. Back then, girls didn’t have dedicated tournaments so Placer Valley Tourism saw the need, collaborated, created and kicked off the Women’s West Coast Tournament of Champions. In just six years, the WWCTOC has grown from 42 high school teams to 116 high school and college teams. Keep in mind, this number does not include unattached wrestlers or numbers for the newly added middle school division."

And, she notes, the progress of women in the sport has increased. "With the influx of college teams being added across the U.S. and Canada, high school girls are experiencing a whole new opportunity to continue their education through sports. It’s truly remarkable to witness the growth and see all the movement amongst the colleges and high schools. I am constantly adding new schools to the WWCTOC and seeing former participants now in the role of coach. I just love this!"