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Girls Participation Numbers Continuing to Boom at Prep Level


The NWCA wants wrestling to be a one-stop sport for families with young kids, which will also help grow its visibility at grassroots levels.

As Mike Moyer explains, the sport of wrestling is open to anyone who wants to participate, regardless of gender, height, weight or disability. 

“So excluding 50 percent of potential wrestlers makes no sense,” says Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. 

That’s why the growth of girls’ wrestling is so important to Moyer and wrestling as a whole. Seven states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington) hold sanctioned state championships for girls. The sport is also growing in Iowa (where participation has gone from 37 to 100 in five years), Wisconsin (where the sport is being considered for sanctioning by the state high school athletic board) and Illinois, where it was called an “emerging sport” by the Illinois High School Association.

More than 350 girls wrestle in Illinois and are allowed to compete against boys. The Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association held the first girls’ state competition at its freshman and sophomore state series in March, as well, and the competition now has five qualifying sectionals statewide. 

Moyer says the sport is taking hold nationwide.

“We now have 40 intercollegiate women’s wrestling teams out there, and again, we’re doing a lot to produce teachers and coaches,” he said. “We have 14,500 high school girls out there wrestling. … It’s rewarding to see the explosion in the sport, with young girls and women.”

The NWCA wants the sport to be a one-stop sport for families with young kids who participate in youth wrestling, which will also help grow its visibility at grassroots levels.

“Parents take their daughters to wrestling where their sons are participating in, and it’s gotten to the point where the daughters say, ‘I want to go out there,’” he said. “It’s absolutely fundamental to the growth of the sport if we can do more of getting sons and daughters participating in the same thing, rather than making moms and dads split time (with kids). It’s better to be participating in the same activity.” 

Girls wrestling grows by 1,000 to 1,500 participants annually, and Moyer credits a top-down strategy for current growth, with the U.S. Women’s National Team enjoying major success at the Olympics and other international tournaments. 

“It was approved for the Olympics and then worked to college and high school levels,” he said. “That’s the reverse of how it usually works. It’s getting exposure around the country and not slowing down anytime soon. We have to make sure high school participation numbers keep pace with college growth. We’re training coaches at a pace to keep up with it, and that’s the challenge. So far so good.”

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