Girls wrestling in AZ gets big boost as AIA adds the sport


High School girls wrestling has just been added as an ’emerging sport’ in Arizona, making this state a pioneer in the movement.

Supporters hope this move goes as well as the addition of beach volleyball did six years ago.  Arizona was the leader in adding beach volleyball to the list of sports offerings for high school girls.

Arizona was the first state in the country to test the idea at the high-school level when the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) added beach volleyball as a varsity sport in November of 2012 at the urging of the Arizona Region of USA Volleyball.  The growing popularity in this state encouraged other states to add leagues and other organized competition.

That first year, the pilot program drew just five schools willing to get on board.  Three years later, the program had expanded to include 18 schools.  This past season, there were 54 schools participating, leading the AIA to fully sanction the sport.

Girls wrestling should take even less time to take root.  There are already girls participating in the sport in this state, but they have had to join the boys’ teams in order to compete.

Their interest in the sport has been heightened as more colleges begin adding a women’s wrestling program.  And the Olympics boosted enthusiasm when it added the sport in 2004.

After watching the girls’ participation in USA youth wrestling programs grow, and at the urging of many of the state’s high-school wrestling coaches, the AIA’s executive board voted on May 21 to include girls wrestling as an emerging sport.  It will begin competition as a winter sport with the next school year.

Beach volleyball was also considered an ’emerging sport’ when it first began, which simply means it was treated as a way to showcase the sport for a season and then see where it goes from there.

Arizona will join 10 or so other states that now offer girls wrestling as a championship sport.

“This is a positive move for the AIA and for all the female wrestlers throughout the state,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines in commenting on the board’s decision.  “It’s another opportunity for student-athletes to compete, which will also help the sport grow.”

But it does more than just provide another sport in which girls can compete throughout their high school years.  It will also provide an additional avenue to a college scholarship since the sport is also gaining traction at the college level where more schools are adding it.

Over the past decade, girls’ participation in wrestling in Arizona has been steadily growing.  Most girls compete at the club level and there are more girls-only tournaments being added around the state, mostly at the youth level.

For at least the first year, as the AIA gets a handle on just what kind of numbers they will have for the new offering, the field won’t be broken down into divisions, like most other sports.  That means the small schools will find themselves competing with much larger programs.

Hines said he expects to see two or three girls’ invitationals and maybe one or two jamborees included in the 2018-19 schedule.  A girls’ state tournament will conclude the season, run in conjunction with the boys’ tourney.