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Should girls wrestle boys in high school wrestling?

February 18, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
Should girls wrestle boys in high school tournaments?

This week Joel Northrup, a homeschooled teenager in Iowa, defaulted a match at the state wrestling tournament rather than wrestle 14-year-old Cassy Herkelman, one of two girls who qualified for the state tournament. Northrup said his choice was dictated by his religious views: "As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa." Northrup pointed out that wrestling is a combat sport that can get violent. Herkelman said she was disappointed but understood. She went on to wrestle in the tournament, but lost both matches.

I have mixed feelings about the topic. I do think girls should be able to participate in sports against boys where they are evenly matched. In elementary school, most boys and girls have comparable physical strength. By high school, especially after boys have had their growth spurts, boys tend to be stronger than girls. That may not be the case with Northrup, a sophomore, and Herkelman, a freshman, both of whom were competing in the 112 pound class and might have about the same strength and stamina.

On the other hand, we are talking about adolescents of dating age, who are dealing with all the feelings that entails. This isn't football or hockey or basketball, sports that also have had the occasional girl competing with boys in high school athletics. Wrestling is a close-contact sport that requires the two people in the ring to use a number of intimate looking holds to try to pin a competitor down. I can understand why Northrup was uncomfortable and why many other boys would be as well.

Some states have all-girl wrestling tournaments. That might be a more appropriate situation, provided that there are enough girls interested in the sport. I don't think I would allow them to compete against boys in high school wrestling.


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