Girls wrestling movement is growing rapidly in Iowa

Mitzi Cano Godinez competes at a recent RBMS wrestling meet. In addition to her, there are several sixth grade girls who are out for the sport, including Jaymie Anderson who has been winning a lot of matches and shows potential for competing well at the middle school level next year. Photo by Les Houser

If you recall, sometime back I wrote an article spotlighting three of the girls at the elementary that were trying out wrestling, with one of them already having some success. Two others, sophomore Ashley Ramirez Marcelino and eighth grader Mitzi Cano Godinez, have seen action on their respective wrestling teams. It begs the question, “If these girls stay with it, and others are added, are we looking at sanctioned girls wrestling at the high school level soon?”

In case you haven’t already noticed, let me be the first to inform you that high school girls’ wrestling could be the most burgeoning sport in the state, and quite possibly even the nation. Through research conducted and published by Mid-America Publishing’s John Jensen, more than half of Iowa schools that wrestle have at least one girl on their roster, and over half of those have more than one. Overall, 143 of Iowa’s 281 schools offering wrestling have at least one female member on the squad. Of those, 73 schools have more than one and 13 schools have 10 or more! Most of those are the largest schools, and some of those have informal teams (or club teams) set up just for girls who want to wrestle.

As impressive as those numbers are, let’s look at how many participate now versus in the past. This year’s total of 481 girls involved in wrestling statewide is up from 187 last year and just 92 the year before (according to the Iowa Wrestling Coaches Association). Only six years ago, there were just 36 girls wrestling in the state. Altogether, that makes for a 1,236 percent increase over a six-year span. Remarkable. Jensen concludes by saying it’s no wonder there is a push to make wrestling for girls a sanctioned sport in the state, which would give them their own teams, schedules and a state tournament (note-there is a state tournament now, but it is put on by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches Association (IWCA) and not the IGHSAU). They would also be wrestling against girls from other teams, and not necessarily any boys as it is now.

Here’s where the issue starts to get a bit sticky. According to Eagle Grove Schools Superintendent Jess Toliver, girls can participate on boys wrestling teams already and, as we’ve seen, are. “We have to be careful, because a separate sanctioned girls team means they can’t be part of the boys team,” said Toliver. “So it becomes ‘Do you have enough for a practice or to fill a lineup?’ Being on a boy’s team gives them more opportunity to wrestle. A girl’s team can only wrestle other girls. I would want to see the participation numbers first. I don’t want to see the state put into place something that restricts existing girls opportunities they have already.”

Several colleges are already on board with separate a wrestling team for females, and a couple of the more successful high school wrestlers chose to go there because it was available. The state’s first 100-win girl wrestler was Felicity Taylor, graduate of South Winneshiek (Calmar), who decided to attend a university in Illinois that has a women’s wrestling team, and the second was Ali Gerbracht of AGWSR. She has decided, at least for now, to concentrate on her studies and not continue wrestling in college. Also noteworthy is that wrestler Keagan King, a South Central Calhoun (SCC) grad, was also successful in high school and is wrestling on the Grand View women’s team after being one of the first to sign in their initial recruiting class.

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