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High School Girls Wrestling Championship Shows Growing Interest For Sport

High schoolers across the state will compete in this weekend's girls-only wrestling state championship. Enthusiasts say the tournament is a testament to the growing interest in the sport.

High schoolers from across the state will compete in this weekend’s girls only wrestling state championship, which is being called the first of its kind. State athletic officials say the competition is a step towards ultimately getting the sport officially recognized.

One hundred twelve athletes have registered for Saturday’s girls-only wrestling competition at Waverly Shell Rock High School. Organizers say they’re blown away by the interest. The school's wrestling coach Eric Whitmore is helping coordinate the event.

"It's a whole new ball of wax, I guess you would say, in really trying to get a full implementation of girls' wrestling at the high school level in the state of Iowa," Whitcome said. 

More girls are getting in to wrestling, but they’re generally still competing against boys. Saturday's tournament, put on by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, is an opportunity for girls to compete against each other.

“Girls that, that are out in the sport competing right now, they really want to be able to have the opportunity to compete against other, other females. And, you know, we’re trying to be proactive in showing that there’s the interest out there, you know, in the female ranks for this sport to take off in the state of Iowa,” Whitcome said.

In recent years the Iowa High School Athletic Association, which oversees boys' sports, has amended its rules and regulations to allow for girls' divisions within its wrestling programs. The association's Lewie Curtis says girls-only access is growing at the high school and college level.

“There are gonna be opportunities out there and I think that those kinds of things that happen are exciting for, you know, for our decision making in regards to what do we do next.”

According to Curtis, the number of girls wrestling at the high school leveled hasbasically doubled in the past year, from about 95 athletes to 188 this year.

The Iowa Girls' High School Athletic Union is monitoring the sports' growth as well. Jean Berger heads the organization.

"Anytime you are organizing participation opportunities for girls, any progress is good," Berger said.

Both athletic associations say more girls will need to get involved in order to push for official recognition, and all of the tournament scheduling logistics and staffing that will require.

Ultimately Berger says 15 percent of the state's schools would have to officially petition the IGHSAU for the sport to be formally sanctioned. 

"It really is up to our members to see what sport they want to add, because they know the costs, they know how it fits in with their location and student interest," Bergen said.

In the meantime, advocates are considering expanding girls’ competition in the boys’ division, and urging more girls to join the sport. Curtis says there's no need to rush into sanctioning.  If the organizations and schools haven't laid the foundation of separate girls' seasons, tournament schedules and regional and statewide competitions, Curtis says sanctioning the sport too soon could result in less opportunities for girls to wrestle.

"We still have girls out there that are going out there and wrestlign with the boys and some of them are beating the boys regularly. So I don't want to take away opportunities for those people either," Curtis said. "They just want to wrestle, you know?"

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter