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A Sport Evolved: Girls Wrestling

This past week, female wrestlers from across the state competed in Iowa's first-ever girl’s wrestling state tournament. Our school is one of over 100 schools in the state who gained a team of female wrestlers following the sanctioning of the sport for the 2022-23 school year. Although we had a large group of female wrestlers in previous years, a lot of things changed when girl's wrestling became a sanctioned sport. After interviewing a couple of our girls, I got a look into what it looks like for girls on and off the mat.

Before this year, the girls weren’t required to attend practices as it was more of an independent sport and the school wasn’t recognized for their performance on the mat. This year, that changed as the girls became a team and it was more important to perform well and train hard.

two women wrestling
Marin Smith on the mat

“It’s like being in a second family with your coaches and teammates because everyone is so close and supportive.” -- Marin Smith

Marin Smith, a senior this year who has been involved in girls wrestling since her sophomore year, says that following the sanctioning, the intensity during practice increased as well as the involvement. Because it was mandatory to attend, numbers increased and there were noticeably more girls at practices.

Abby Allen, also a senior and involved for all four years of high school, says that prior to the sanctioning there was more of a “come as you please” vibe and there was a definite shift during this past season. There was more time spent on conditioning and regular practice time was dedicated to technique, and having more participation they were able to train and even compete within practices against teammates.

Abby Allen celebrates a win

“I will never regret my decision to start wrestling.” -- Abby Allen

With the freshness of female wrestling as a sport, teams across the state are in the spotlight as this is such a new concept for many people. In prior years, wrestling was thought to be only a male sport but times are changing. I asked the girls if they felt respected and if they had seen a large amount of criticism being within the first group of girls involved in such an evolved sport.

Smith feels quite respected by the community of fans, parents, peers, and coaches and also recognizes the growth the boys have made with their acceptance of the girls sharing the mat with them.

“At any tournaments we shared with them, they always supported us and encouraged us to do our best.” -- Marin Smith

Allen appreciates the dedication her coaches had in investing their time and energy into improving the girls as athletes and as wrestlers. She also includes that her peers were very supportive and were actively involved and cheering them on. She also admits that the boys do however have room to grow.

“Of course we do not wrestle the same as them because we are all still learning and some snarky comments might be made about how we're wrestling.” - Abby Allen
crowd wrestling meet small girl

She recognizes how different it must be for them as they are used to being the only group competing and she also notices how much growth they made over the season. She says, “However, in the long run, after watching some of the boys coach us up and watch us wrestle it's safe to say that the male wrestler's respect is there but is also still growing.”

Going out on a limb and trying something new is always uncomfortable and a risk for everyone. I feel as though these girls are building the foundation for the sport and they deserve credit for that. As tough as it is, both Smith and Allen have learned so much and would encourage every girl to get involved.

Smith says, “I believe that wrestling is one of the hardest sports you can do and it has changed my views on a lot of things in life. I think every girl that is even considering wrestling should take the chance and do it because it is such a great sport.”

two women wrestling

Allen says, “It has made me so much of a stronger person physically and mentally. I have gained so much confidence in so much of my life now because of this sport.”

There was no doubt a large audience of people following and supporting girls wrestling as it grows across the country at the high school and collegiate levels. The first official season for the girls wrestling team at the University of Iowa is scheduled for 2023-24 and many schools are to follow. As the sport grows, our girls will remain supported as they continue to develop and grow in the future.

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