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More states sanctioning wrestling programs for girls

More states sanctioning girls wrestling programs, opening up sport to women
Posted at 11:21 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 11:21:07-05

Wrestling is becoming a more popular sport among girls. More states are choosing to sanction girls wrestling programs which is opening up additional opportunities for a wrestler’s future.

“The atmosphere of wrestling is just so much different than any other sport,” Callie Arnold, a wrestler at Pierce Public Schools, said. “I found that mental edge that a lot of people struggle with.”

This year was full of firsts for this team of high school wrestlers.

“Coming in this year, we knew we were going to have a state tournament. Luckily here, we had been growing girls wrestling the last three years,” Les Painter, wrestling coach at Pierce Public Schools, said.

It's something Painter had in the works. Six years ago, he helped write the proposal to get girls wrestling sanctioned in the state of Nebraska.

“These girls want the same opportunity as our boys. And when it’s not sanctioned and you have an outside organization, like us, who's basically just coaches saying, 'Hey, this is important to us,'” he explained.

Last year, the Nebraska School Activities Association voted to sanction the sport.

“So now that it is NSAA, there is not a school out there that has said that they will accept this that is not gonna put up a girl,” Painter said.

“We finally were able to wrestle in Omaha, have the same opportunity the boys did that they've had for years. And it was the first year we were able to be down there. Last year I went to state just to watch the boys and I was like, wouldn't it be cool to wrestle here next year,” Arnold said.

She got her wish.

“This year it was sanctioned and we got an actual NSAA medal and we were on the podium,” she said.

“This year I was able to get the state championship title, the first one,” Makinzie Parsons, another wrestler on the team, said. “I’ve been watching it for as long as I can remember and to finally be a part of it and be there myself and feel the atmosphere was definitely really cool.”

Currently, 34 states have girls wrestling programs with sanctioned state championships. That means the sport is school-based and recognized by the state’s school activities association.

“As women's wrestling really started growing around 2000, there's really just been this explosion of growth at the high school and youth level,” Michael Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, said.

He said this is great for the growth of the sport on many levels.

“It is relatively challenging to get a new sport off the ground because if you’re adding college programs you have to make sure the high school participation keeps pace,” he said.

“The more you watch colleges add girls wrestling it's going to put more pressure. I’ll use Iowa as an example. Iowa was just sanctioned about a month and a half ago and the reality was that they had enough colleges, they couldn't fill all these girls wrestling teams and they were not sanctioning girls wrestling,” Painter explained.

After just a year and a half of wrestling in high school, Arnold is considering making it a part of her life after she graduates.

“I want to potentially wrestle in college….I found I really have a passion for it,” she said. “It’s a good thing for girls to be able to compete in a sport that has been so male dominated because it can show girls can do it too.”

“There's more scholarships and there are more colleges that are now opening up to girls wrestling,” Parsons said.

Painter said as programs grow, it shows the possibilities for other states as well.

“You give it three years and I believe every state will be sanctioned,” he said. “This opportunity now is coming and I'm going to tell people you better get on board or you better get out of the way, because we’re going to grow this thing one way or another and these girls are going to keep getting better and better and better.”