It was assumed several years ago that girls wrestling would have to take a lot of baby steps as it began on the road to acceptance as a recognized high school sport.
Instead, the sport is growing by leaps and bounds. And on Monday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) executive board approved adding a team state meet for girls’ wrestling. The vote was unanimous.
For the last two years, the AIA, the governing body for high school sports in Arizona, categorized girls’ wrestling as an “emerging sport”, which meant that participants could compete for individual state medals, but there were no team championships.
That all changed Monday with the lifting of the “emerging” tag. Girls’ teams will compete next year in a single division for the first-ever state title in the sport.
It was impossible for the board to ignore the soaring interest in the sport, based on participation numbers the last couple of years.
The girls have a way to go to reach the kind of numbers the boys enjoy, but the train is headed down the track and gaining steam. Boys’ teams will be competing in three divisions next season, with 48 teams each in Division I and II, and another 52 teams in D-III.
It’s unlikely that the girls’ numbers will never approach those from the boys’ program, but what was merely an idea a couple of years ago has now inserted itself into the high school sports landscape.
Actually, there was obvious interest even before the movement began since girls have been wrestling for years, but have always had to join the boys’ teams in order to be able to compete. So the idea of girls’ teams shouldn’t take too long to take root.
But it does more than just provide another sport in which girls can participate during 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.
Arizona is one of the pioneering states to address the need. When the AIA agreed to add girls’ wrestling as an emerging sport back in June of 2018, there were only about 10 other states that had begun offering girls’ wrestling as a championship sport.
For more than a decade, girls’ participation in wrestling has been slowly, but steadily, growing. Most girls have been competing at the club level and entering the few girls-only tournaments available to them, mostly at the youth level.
In that inaugural season of 2019, 150 qualifiers showed up to compete in 10 weight classes and the girls’ state competition was run alongside the boys’ tournament. The girls wrapped up their tournament in a single day as a large crowd was on hand to help usher in the new sport.
Still early in the program’s development, the sport is being dominated by the few that have been participating for several years, honing their skills against the boys. In the first year, seven out of the top 10 seeds were undefeated. This year, again with 10 classes, three of those 10 championship medals went to repeat winners, all of whom completed the season with undefeated records.
That will change as participation continues to grow. And the AIA’s decision to sanction team championships will help speed up that growth.