Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Girls wrestle--even in Iowa

Yep--it's true. Girls wrestle. But girls who wrestle made news this past week (yes, I am late to post on this) when a boy forfeited a first-round tournament match rather than face female student-athlete Cassy Herkelman. Herkelman thus became the first girl ever to win a match at this particular state tournament.
The big deal is not so much that girls wrestle. This we know. The big deal is that this is IOWA. IOWA has produced many an elite wrestler. This year marked the first time a girl had ever qualified for the state tournament (2 girls achieved that mark--Herkelman and Megan Black). But girls have been wrestling in the state for about two decades according to the article linked above.
I haven't seen much anti-girl rhetoric in the coverage of this event--which is good. The defaulter, Joel Northrup, cited religious convictions in his statement about why he chose to forfeit his match. He did not believe it was right for a boy to engage in a combat sport against a girl. Not being especially familiar with the Bible, I don't know which passage he was basing his convictions on. It raises an interesting discussion about sanctioned violence, though. Wish that more people thought violence against women and girls was morally wrong. Or better that violence itself was wrong. But in sport male-on-male violence is accepted and applauded (just turn on any NHL game and witness how that league is practically marketing its sport's violence). Also note that male on female violence is often tacitly sanctioned when the perpetrator is a sports star.
But boys forfeiting to girls in wrestling is nothing new. My one go-to girls' wrestling source says it happens all the time. That it has happened to her on more than one occasion. And that she's happy to take the win and stay fresh for her next round.
What is potentially damaging is what looks like a lack of support for girls' wrestling in general. Northrup didn't have anything against the girls who wrestle but he felt he was the one being placed in an unfortunate situation. And the implication is that girls' wrestling as a whole is a problem. Herkelman and Black are just participating in the system that allows them to participate. I worry that there will be a concerted effort to change this system.
It is changing, though, all the time and at different levels. Women's wrestling teams at the intercollegiate level are emerging at what appears to be a pretty rapid rate despite the fact that the NCAA has been slow to recognize women's wrestling as emerging sport. And supporters of men's wrestling have gotten on board with this trend because they see it as a way to save men's wrestling, which as a so-called minor sport, has suffered in the football and basketball "arms race."
Whenever I hear about controversy in girls' wrestling I recall that heartbreaking scene in Girl Wrestler when the protagonist walks up to her wrestling hero, and he tells her that he doesn't believe girls should wrestle. Attitudes have changed somewhat since that movie was made but how much?

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