As participation in girls wrestling grows in the state and nationally, coaches and administrators in Wisconsin are nearing completion on a proposal that would create a girls division with individual state tournament title opportunities.
Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow, a proponent of creating additional opportunities for girls and growing girls wrestling, has been involved with an ad hoc committee drafting a proposal that then would go to the WIAA. The Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association and the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation are key groups supporting this movement.
“There is a push that would like to see gender equality for girls who wrestle,” Dow said. “Currently, we provide girls an opportunity to win a state title in individual sports like cross country, swimming, track and golf because it is nearly impossible for them to have a reasonable chance at a title competing against same-aged male athletes.
“Girls wrestling is taking off all over the country with nearly 20 states sanctioning a girls division. The WWCA has a proposal nearly complete that will allow for girls to join their schools wrestling team, train and compete against comparable opponents throughout the season and then have the opportunity to compete for a state title like the boys have been afforded for decades. The current proposal does not impact the current structure of the boys individual state series and would provide for greater attendance at the WIAA team state event.”
Girls currently can compete on the boys teams. More girls-only competitions, such as the girls division at the recent Badger State Invitational, are being scheduled. But WIAA-sanctioned individual state titles are determined at the WIAA state tournament, which includes boys and any qualifying girls.
According to Dow, the proposal would add a separate, fourth division within the current wrestling season; provide an additional level for schools that offer wrestling (varsity, varsity reserve, JV, now girls); provide opportunity for females to compete for an individual state title; permit practice with the regular team; and allow girls to compete at or in either regular-season events or girls-only events (fitting within the permitted number).
In 2018-19, 127 of 333 schools (38%) in the state had a female wrestler on the roster and 248 females competed overall. So far in 2019-20, 143 of 336 schools (43%) have a female wrestler on the roster and 325 females have competed overall, according to statistics from Dow. More than 22,000 girls participated nationally in 2018-19, according to those statistics.
Stoughton junior Rose Ann Marshall, who began in wrestling in fourth grade and has competed in the Vikings’ varsity lineup, has witnessed increased interest from females and growth in the sport.
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“I feel like it has,” she said. “I feel like people realize how important girls wrestling is.”
Marshall was named the outstanding female wrestler after winning the 113-pound division at the Badger State Invitational.
“The environment (at the Badger State Invitational) is positive and there is a lot of competition,” Marshall said.
Mike Errthum — whose daughter, Mount Horeb freshman Hanna Errthum, was the 138-pound girls champion at the Badger State Invitational — said the proposal the ad hoc committee is crafting is a step in the right direction.
“We want girls to have as many opportunities as boys,” said Errthum, a Wisconsin Wrestling Federation district representative who was a coach for the Wisconsin team that won the inaugural 14U girls national dual tournament last summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hanna Errthum was on that undefeated team, as was Middleton freshman Mattie Papenthien, who is on the Cardinals’ wrestling roster. Middleton coach Kent Weiler said he favors the girls wrestling proposal.
WIAA communications director Todd Clark said discussions about girls wrestling have taken place, including during open forum at WIAA fall area meetings when the WWCA made sure it was on the radar. But he said no recommendations have come from advisory committees and further discussion will be needed. That will include talking about weight classes, number of participants, number of schools sponsoring and separate or combined teams, he said.
Supporters of the plan said a girls wrestling division could be added rather than making girls wrestling a separate sport, and pointed to the WIAA including a wheelchair division at the state track and field meet.
Dow said the proposed plan doesn’t have the expectation there would be an additional team or require an additional coach. Schools would be encouraged to continue to develop girls-only events.
The girls would practice with the boys, teams could use the girls in regular-season duals and teams could use females during regional and team sectional events. A girl who qualifies for individual sectionals would have to choose between competing in the boys sectional tournament or pursuing the female state tournament.
Initially under the proposal, it’s likely the girls division would be scheduled for the University of Wisconsin Field House at the same time as WIAA team state. The ultimate goal is to have the girls division on a fourth mat at the WIAA state individual tournament at the Kohl Center.