Prep Wrestling

Numbers, support and opportunities grow for girls' wrestling in Iowa

Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Independence host girls' divisions this weekend ahead of first state championships

Megan Black of McKendree (front) tries to spin around on Teshya Alo of TMWC during their women's 58 kg match in the first round of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Apr. 9, 2016. Black was the first female state medalist at the IHSAA state wrestling tournament. The former Eddyville-Blakesburg helped lead the charge for growth in girls' wrestling in Iowa. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Megan Black of McKendree (front) tries to spin around on Teshya Alo of TMWC during their women's 58 kg match in the first round of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Apr. 9, 2016. Black was the first female state medalist at the IHSAA state wrestling tournament. The former Eddyville-Blakesburg helped lead the charge for growth in girls' wrestling in Iowa. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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The numbers are starting to grow and so is the support.

Female wrestlers in Iowa have received more opportunities to compete with the movement to include girls’ divisions as part of already established events.

Ogden and Independence were at the forefront last season. The number of programs to offer similar tournaments has increased to 14 this year, including a girls’ division at Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s J-Hawk Invitational on Saturday and the first Iowa High School Girls Wrestling Championships on Jan. 19 at Waverly-Shell Rock.

The championship meet will be conducted by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association and is open to all eligible female wrestlers on current rosters of Iowa High School Athletic Association sponsored programs.

“I think it’s a good step,” said Charlotte Bailey, Iowa USA Wrestling’s women’s director and founder of Female Elite Wrestling, a charter club of USA Wrestling. “We’ve seen other states do it as a part of their process to get where girls really want to be, which is on the mat alongside their peers in a different division but in an equal celebration for the postseason.

“I’m really excited for this year’s seniors. Many of them are probably newer to wrestling and are going to get a great season finale and know they are a part of something historic.”

Chloe Clemons is one of three current J-Hawks, who will compete in a six-wrestler round-robin on Saturday and is expected to wrestle in Waverly. She said it is a great opportunity for all high school girls in Iowa

“We have all worked very hard to prove that girls deserve just as much opportunity to be on the mat as the boys,” Clemons said in an email to The Gazette. “To be able to have our own stand-alone state tournament where we can truly compete against our peers as the boys do (and to) find out who the best in the state is, is incredible. Hopefully someday girls will get the opportunity they truly deserve next to the boys at Wells Fargo (Arena).”

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The number of states to sanction girls' wrestling has more than doubled in the last year. According to Intermatwrestle.com, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington all held separate state championships for females last season. Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Oregon added official state championship events this season.

The IWCOA had met previously with members of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and Iowa High School Athletic Association. Discussions came to a standstill, but the IHSAA has helped disseminate information for scheduled events this season.

“Lewie Curtis, (Director of Officials) of the IHSAA, sent out a message to coaches and asked who is going and said let’s make sure people know the dates,” Bailey said. “They have done a really nice job this year of making sure the opportunities existed.”

Participation in girls’ high school wrestling has increased in recent years. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the total has jumped to 16,562 in the 2017-18 season, rising by almost 2,000 wrestlers from the previous school year.

Iowa has seen a similar spike. According to the IWCOA release last week, the state has 157 girls out for wrestling. Ninety-three girls were on high school rosters last year. Clemons said she believes the numbers will improve with additional chances to compete against peers.

“Absolutely, I think you can see that by the increase in participation numbers this year,” Clemons said. “These tournaments give girls that want to wrestle but not wrestle boys the opportunity to come out for the sport.”

Iowa City High Coach Cory Connell said he would love to see it take off and saw the impact when he coached Megan Black, the only female to place at the IHSAA state wrestling tournament, while at Eddyville-Blakesburg.

City High had a girls’ division at its junior varsity meet in December.

“I don’t have any female wrestlers,” Connell said. “I strongly believe I would if there was a sanctioned sport or if I was able to start an all girls’ team there would be several out.”

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Jefferson Activities Director Chris Deam entertained the idea of expanding the J-Hawk Invitational after last year’s event. He consulted coaches and other wrestling experts to gauge the interest and viability of adding a varsity girls' division.

“I think we’re just barely reaching girls, because I think there are a lot of girls who don’t wrestle on high school teams,” Deam said. “There just aren’t the opportunities to wrestle (other) girls.

“The only thing you can do is offer it and see.”

Jefferson is one of three schools, hosting a girls’ division during competition Saturday, joining Ankeny and Independence’s junior varsity meet with 26 entrants. Girls competed at the Mendenhall Invitational at Ames and at Elkader Central.

Scheduling could be improved to create bigger and better fields.

“I think we have to coordinate that better,” Deam said. “We just need to coordinate that better and limit the number we have each weekend until we get it built a little bit bigger.”

Jefferson started the season with five girls on the roster and three remain, including 120-pound varsity starter Clemons, who started wrestling in seventh grade and has enjoyed the “roller coaster” since her first tournament shortly after starting practice.

Bailey said some programs have more than 10 females on their roster. Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Cedar Rapids Washington each have one female wrestler. Kennedy Coach Dennis Hynek confirmed to The Gazette that the Cougars’ Ali Andersen will wrestle at Waverly.

“This gives the girls a chance to compete for a purpose,” Jefferson Coach Ryan Phillips said. “This is what it’s for. This is why we do it. This is why we wrestle for an opportunity to win some sort of state championship.”

Iowa is in the infancy of its push to sanction the sport for girls. Sanctioning is in the hands of the IGHSAU, but the IHSAA could add a girls’ division to its postseason in the future.

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Deam said many questions remain, including weight classes and the appropriate range of weights. He said those questions will be answered in time as participation and experience progresses. Jefferson would like to lead the charge.

“There are a lot of sports and a lot of people are interested in sanctioning a lot of different sports,” Deam said. “There is a process. We just have to start showing the numbers. We have to find that draw. What do we do to get those girls from just wrestling clubs not associated with high school teams and bring them in?”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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