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Girls wrestling should be a sanctioned high school sport

By John Burbridge

Like most journalists, I root for the story.

And if the story features an underdog, all the better.

One of my favorite ongoing underdog stories is the increased prominence of women in the UFC as well as other professional mixed-martial-arts organizations.

What makes it an “underdog story” mainly in the realm of the UFC is that UFC president Dana White once vowed that he would never include female bouts on his cards. The only women he initially saw fit to be inside the octagon were the “eye candy” assigned to make sashay circuits with round-number placards raised overhead.

Despite the blatant discrimination, women somehow were able to kick the cage door in and are now pay-per-view headliners. Many casual MMA fans are likely to name and/or identify more female fighters than their male counterparts.

So how did we get here? How did women make such a name for themselves while procuring legions of fans — male and female — in the most testosterone-fueled sport in the world?

Maybe it’s because of their increased knowledge and interaction in the martial arts.

Throughout the last few decades there has been a proliferation of women’s self-defense classes attended by women of all ages. Many sign on to learn rudimentary ploys to stave off attacks from stronger perpetrators and may feel that a class or two gives them the knowledge they need. Others — self-conscious of their health and fitness as well as their safety — have gone on to adopt martial arts training as part of their lifestyles.

But perhaps the main reason women’s MMA has taken off is that their bouts are arguably just as entertaining in regards to displayed athleticism, agility and action as the men’s bouts if not more.

And the same can be said about female wrestling.

In case you haven’t heard, Charles City High School has a fairly formidable squad of female wrestlers. At the prestigious “Battle of Waterloo” held late last year in deliberate proximity to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame/Dan Gable Wrestling Museum, the Comet girls emerged the inaugural champions of the girls division which the tournament included for the first time.

Earlier this week, the Comet girls won the 13-team Anamosa Girls Wrestling Tournament.
At the inaugural Girls High School State Wrestling Tournament held last January at Waverly-Shell Rock, Charles City placed third.

But if the Comets want to earn a girls wrestling trophy with “Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union” inscribed on it, they’re going to have to wait.

Currently, girls wrestling is not sanctioned by the IGHSAU. A lack of interest has been cited as one of the reasons despite the fact that interest is growing at an exponential rate.

Though there are under 500 high school female wrestlers in Iowa for the 2019-20 school season, that’s more than a 1,000% — aka 11 times (not 10) — increase from just five years ago.

For this school year, there are 10 NCAA Division III female college wrestling programs in the state of Iowa. But female wrestling is still not sanctioned amid all three levels of the NCAA.

It’s high time for the IGHSAU and the NCAA — at all levels — to sanction female wrestling as soon as possible.

When Title IX was enacted in 1972 in efforts to ensure “equity” of scholastic opportunities among males and females, one of the casualties was college wrestling — especially among schools with football programs. Due to the nature of the beast, football requires large rosters, far more so than most if not all female sports. So to make things more “equitable”, wrestling was often cut to balance the books … or genders.

But the intention of Title IX was to provide more opportunities rather than to employ balance by subtraction. More opportunities for females to wrestle in a sanctioned sport should alleviate such Title IX-imposed subtractions.

Though some people would like to turn back the clock to where this country didn’t need federal mandates, it’s hard to argue with the successful consequences of Title IX, warts and all. For one, it has helped more women gain scholarships on the way to earning college degrees.

Equal pay among male and female pro athletes remains the topic du jour spilling into the New Year, but the lack of lucrative avenues for aspiring female athletes likely encouraged many to focus more on taking full advantage of scholarship opportunities to upgrade their education rather than to chase pro-athlete pipe dreams that often plague men who hope to become eight-, nine- or even 10-figures wealthy.

Former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head basketball coach Tim Floyd once lamented out loud, “Kansas has (two players) who would be lottery picks if they left early for the NBA Draft, but have chosen to stay in school. Good for them. We have guys who want to leave early to play for Uruguay.”

If female wrestling becomes sanctioned at all levels in the NCAA, chances are very few would leave early to take their talents to Uruguay.

But as for the UFC …