Home Jason's Rants Female wrestling in position for big move

Female wrestling in position for big move

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Helen Maroulis became the first U.S. female Olympic gold medalist at Rio. If the NCAA grants women's wrestling full sponsorship it will help develop the women's wrestling movement. (Photo courtesy of USA Wrestling)

This is no time for a stalling call.

Jason P. Skoda

There has been a movement for female wrestling to become an “emerging” sport at the NCAA level and as first reported by MyNewsMesa.com last week in the state of Arizona as well.

It’s about time.

Girls have been on the mats for a long time. In fact, my very first match as a fifth-grader came against a girl back in the 1980s.

I’ve written countless stories about female wrestlers competing against boys over the course of my two-and-half decade career as well.

It shouldn’t be the case anymore. Not with the interest climbing and so many role models out there for other girls to look up.

According to the National Federation of High Schools, girls wrestling participation has doubled in size from the 2009-10 school year (6,134 girls on 1,009 teams) to 2015-16 (13,496 girls on 1,941 teams).

The NCAA version of women’s wrestling started gaining steam recently when Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands wrote a letter to NCAA asking to place women’s wrestling on the NCAA emerging sports list.

An emerging sport is a women’s sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women and more sport-sponsorship options for the institutions, and also help that sport achieve NCAA championship status. Bylaws require that emerging sports must gain championship status within 10 years or show steady progress toward that goal to remain on the list.

Institutions are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet the membership minimum sports-sponsorship requirements and, in Divisions I and II, minimum financial aid requirements.

Arizona State and few other institutions followed suit in supporting Brands’ request to give the Wrestle Like A Girl organization, which had 10 NCAA institutions commit to forming a program, some hefty backing.

“It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” ASU coach Zeke Jones told WIN Magazine. “Our athletic director Ray Anderson has added five sports, two men’s sports and three women’s sports. If it’s ever going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen at ASU because of the partnership between Arizona State and the Sunkist Wrestling Club. I believe they have already had discussions about it.”

Mountain View national champion Stefana Jelacic is sponsored by Sunkist while competing nationally, and internationally, but in the state of Arizona she competes against boys at the high school level.

For now.

“It would mean a lot to me,” Jelacic, a sophomore at Mountain View, said about the possibility of NCAA wrestling. “I think it is very important to have more women’s wrestling programs. First of all as a student athlete it offers much more academic opportunities and greater chance of getting a scholarship. Second, it will definitely help the sport grow and it could get more attention. I gotta say it would be super great if it was added to many Ivy League schools.”

There has been a movement for the Arizona Interscholastic Association to add girls wrestling as an emerging sport as it did with girls sand volleyball a few years back.

The details are still being figured out, but offering it in the spring as freestyle might be the way to go. There will be more coaches, referees and tournament directors available in the spring, while freestyle, and not folkstyle (the high school version), is how women compete internationally.

Today’s young wrestlers are watching USA’s first gold medalist Helen Maroulis, three-time world champion Adeline Gray, and Sunkist sponsored and two-time Olympian Kelsey Campbell compete for their country wrestling in freestyle.

It only makes sense to prepare the girls of the future in the same discipline.

So it is time to set the tempo, attack and win every scramble to keep the momentum behind the initiative moving forward in order to keep it from stalling in red tape.

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

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