The ideas weren’t bold at the beginning.
But the response from forming a girls’ wrestling team at Waverly-Shell Rock High to the first official dual meet between girls’ teams has led to bigger agenda items.
Last spring, Waverly-Shell Rock head coach Eric Whitcome gauged the interest of forming a girls’ wrestling team by posting signs throughout the school and sending out a survey to girls.
“All of a sudden people were starting to talk about it,” Whitcome said. “Then they started asking me some questions. That is all it took.”
A year after 93 girls participated on boys’ teams in the state of Iowa with 48 of them officially participating in a varsity match, the momentum to get girls’ wrestling sanctioned in Iowa seems to be gaining steam.
Currently there are 14 states that sanction prep girls’ wrestling with Kansas and Pennsylvania in serious discussions to add it in 2019.
In the past year alone, eight states — Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri and Oregon — have joined the original six of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.
“To us, really, the old method of banging on the door of the state and hoping they’ll hear has not worked,” Whitcome said. “We believe the way to be heard is through numbers, and if we go out and recruit the numbers they won’t be able to deny making it a sanctioned sport.
“I think there is more interest in girls’ wrestling out there than anyone would ever think. But the majority of those girls aren’t going to come out and say, ‘Hey, I’m here and I want to wrestle.’ They want to be asked. That is how we started by simply going to the girls and asking, would you have any interest?”
The Go-Hawks had eight girls take the mat against a group of girls from Charles City on Dec. 6 in what became the first official dual meet between girls’ teams in the state of Iowa. Whitcome said he believes Osage has an eight-girl team, as well, and hopes to schedule another dual with them.
“I think it has been really cool for our school,” said W-SR junior Haley Eckerman, one of those eight and also a cheerleader for the Go-Hawk boys’ wrestling team. Eckerman’s dad, Eric, is a long-time wrestling official in the state.
“I’ve been around wrestling for a long time because of my dad, and to be able to actually do it myself, against other girls, has been a really cool experience.
“It was crazy. The boys’ and girls’ basketball teams moved their practices so they could come watch,” added Eckerman of the dual against Charles City.
Eckerman has begun to develop a wrestler’s mentality, too. She broke her nose four days before the dual with the Comets.
“It was a small fracture, so it was just walk-it-off type of thing,” Eckerman laughed.
The movement has not been isolated to Northeast Iowa, either.
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Girls’ divisions have been held at several sites throughout the state the past few years, and there are nine more opportunities in January, including Independence on Jan. 12.
Independence assistant coach Keith Donnelly said he and Mustang head coach Michael Doyle went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., a couple of years ago to earn their Silver Coaching Certification through USA Wrestling. While there, they listened to a speaker who talked about women’s wrestling.
“We learned it is the fastest growing female sport in America,” Donnelly said. “Michael and I were shocked/disappointed/somewhat embarrassed coming from Iowa that other states were sanctioning female wrestling as a sport and Iowa is the hotbed of wrestling and our state hasn’t sanctioned it as an actual female sport.
“As coaches, we thought the best thing we could do to help promote female wrestling and to continue to promote it was to offer a female division at our junior varsity tournament.”
This will be the third year the Independence junior varsity tournament has had a girls’ division.
With the success of the dual and girls’ divisions at tournaments increasing, Whitcome said another discussion has turned to a bigger idea. With the support of Lewie Curtis, the director of officials for the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association jumping on board, an unofficial girls’ state wrestling tournament in Waverly is in the works.
Waverly-Shell Rock is also scheduled to host one of the remaining nine girls’ divisions as part of the Rick Caldwell Invitational on Jan. 19.
Talks between Whitcome, Curtis and the IWCOA have led to the discussion of making the Waverly tournament, the last on the schedule, the battle for state titles.
“We kind of got it going to a point, a lot of people have said, ‘Hey, are we going to have some kind of culmination activity for these girls to wrap up the season?” Whitcome said. “We just happened to be the last one on the schedule.
“It is one of those things where we don’t want to step on any toes with the association or the girls’ union, but, hey let’s do this unofficially with their support.”
Just prior to the holiday break, Whitcome and Eckerman, the past president and current executive vice president of the IWCOA, set in motion the idea of having the IWCOA sponsor the event.
“I talked to Bob Murphy (current IWCOA president) last night (Dec. 20), and he threw it out to our officers and the response was real good,” Eckerman said. “It will happen. We will sponsor it.”
Whitcome said he is uncertain how many weight classes would be part of the state meet, but says it will be somewhere between eight and 10.
“I think certainly for us coaches, having this be a culminating activity for these girls ... it is a big win for the first year,” Whitcome said. “The most important aspect of getting girls’ wrestling on the map in the state of Iowa, and what I think is really important is for our coaches and the people who are connected to the sport of wrestling to go out and recruit.
“The more that participate, the harder it will be not to sanction.”