Charlotte Bailey doesn’t want change for the sake of something different. She wants to see it make a difference.
Bailey, the Iowa USA Wrestling women’s director, has worked to increase chances for female wrestlers to compete, learn and train with other female athletes. The goal is to make them better and strengthen the sport, not just separate it from their male counterparts.
“There’s another group of girls willing to try this sport because their family loves it, it’s interesting and it looks like fun to them,” Bailey said. “They don’t mind the hard work. Either they or their parents want to sign up for girls events only.”
Bailey was voted to her post in August after about three months in an interim role. She had been on the coaching staff.
By September, the wheels were in motion to create more events. A female tournament was added to the Conflict at Carver. A female tournament will run in conjunction with a youth state tournament Jan. 25 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
Another female event will be held during a youth freestyle state meet May 2 at Iowa City West. The tournaments will be open competition, including female entrants from other states.
Previously, the only major events were folkstyle nationals in Oklahoma City, Body Bar National Championships with wrestlers from youth to university levels, and freestyle nationals at Fargo, N.D.
“The main thing we’re trying to do right now is add opportunities for girls to compete with other girls and practice with other girls,” Bailey said. “Previously, it was a girl on this team and a girl on that team.
“They just happened to be able to manage the social dynamics for that and happened to have a coach that knew and felt comfortable with helping them through some of them.”
Getting the word out is a work in progress. Charlotte Bailey said Team Iowa’s lack of presence led to wrestlers competing for other states in national tournaments. Talent exists; the test is bringing it together.
“I had five girls at Fargo this year,” said Charlotte Baily, noting that Illinois was 10th with 19 wrestlers. “They took seventh place (as a team). There were 35 states, plus Puerto Rico.”
Local wrestling supporter Jim Brown of Cedar Rapids created Wrestling for Life, a non-profit organization to encourage young people to participate in amateur wrestling. He has helped raise funds for some females to compete and is focused on increasing that effort.
“Supporting girls wrestling fits with the Wrestling for Life mission and I hope to do more of it,” Brown said. “We’ve provided some financial support to Charlotte and to helping True Wrestling Insider sponsor a couple of girls teams in Illinois.”
Bailey has spearheaded the effort to build participation levels and membership. She has reached out to all female competitors, including those looking to return to the sport.
“For some reason we’re losing them from third, fourth and fifth grade,” said Iowa City West Coach and Iowa USA Wrestling State Chairman Mark Reiland. “She’s trying to figure out where these girls are and get in contact with them and keep them involved.”
USA Wrestling women’s national coach Terry Steiner said trends have shown participation levels rise when females are offered the chance to wrestle outside of co-ed competition. He said it shouldn’t be treated as a sideshow.
Steiner, a three-time All-American and NCAA champion for former Iowa coach Dan Gable, said increasing participation for women could boost the entire sport.
“Women’s wrestling will help the growth of wrestling at all levels,” Steiner said. “It’s the next step.”
Bailey held a Team Iowa practice recently in Evansdale. Twenty-three girls ranging from Kindergarten to high school seniors attended. For some, it was a new experience altogether, while others had their first workout with other females or a female coach.
Bailey’s daughter, former Iowa City West varsity letterwinner Jasmine Bailey, helped coach.
“There were several girls who came to practice who had never been to a practice before,” Charlotte Bailey said. “They weren’t interested in wrestling boys.”
Iowa has had female wrestlers blaze a trail to collegiate wrestling after co-ed high school competition.
Megan Black was Iowa’s first female medalist at the state tournament, placing eighth at 106 pounds in Class 1A for Eddyville-Blakesburg in 2012.
Cassie Herkelman of Cedar Falls wrestled in the 2011 3A state meet and received national attention when her first-round opponent forfeited to her.
Jasmine Bailey and Herkelman are members of the female team at McKendree (Ill.) College, and Black wrestles for King University.
“It takes somebody like that to have some success to really open your eyes,” Reiland said. “It takes somebody to prove it can be done before they put forth the effort themselves.”
Other notable Iowans include Jessica Fresh of Knoxville who competed for the state’s lone female college program at Waldorf College in Forest City and wrestled at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Iowa City. Justice Loesee of St. Ansgar is a junior on the Warriors’ roster.
Female wrestling in college has blossomed at the NAIA level. Charlotte Bailey said scholarship opportunities exist for those who excel on the national level.
“There were girls who before they started wrestling didn’t know they were going to college,” Charlotte Bailey said. “We’re meeting people and finding out this is a new sport at a lot of schools.”
Bailey has tried to expose younger female wrestlers to women who are active in the sport. She has introduced them to college wrestlers and Roni Goodale, who has competed and serves as an official.
“I want to these young ladies to see women in wrestling in all of the roles,” Bailey said. “Not just moms who pack the bags.”
According to participation numbers provided by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, 40 females are wrestling for 33 boys’ programs this season. Although the number of programs increased by one, female participants dropped by 26 from last season.
In 2011-12, 77 girls competed in wrestling. This year’s total is the fewest since 47 during the 2010-11 season. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 9,900 females competed in high school nationwide.
Alaska is the most recent state to add a separate state varsity competition for female wrestling. The biggest argument against that in Iowa has been lack of demand. Bailey said she thinks that will eventually change, but the desired numbers must be determined.
“They can’t figure out what the tipping point is in terms of quantity,” she said. “The next phase is to start looking at what is feasible and possible and then build toward it.”
Steiner has championed the cause to state athletic associations. In a letter distributed to NFHS members, Steiner encouraged the inclusion of female wrestling, emphasizing the impact the intangibles and life lessons instilled by the sport has on participants.
“It’s time to change it,” Steiner said. “Wrestling is a teacher of life skills. We should not limit it to half the population.”
Steiner said about seven states have separate competition for female wrestling.
“We still have a lot of work to do to open these doors,” Steiner said. “There is no reason in a state like Iowa that has such a passion for it that girls’ wrestling couldn’t be a sanctioned sport.”
For more information, contact Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org
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