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Plenty of positives for girls wrestling

Girls wrestling just wrapped up its first PIAA-sanctioned season and by almost any objective measure, it was a success.

Everything culminated in the state tournament for boys and girls running concurrently in March in Hershey. The finals for AA, AAA, and the girls division happened simultaneously during the final session with the girls being showcased on the middle Giant Center mat.

During the medal presentations, the girls generally received larger ovations than did the boys from either division.

In District XI, the 13 district champions came from 11 different schools. Represented on the top of the podium were schools that are generally an afterthought to the EPC-centric fans in Northampton and Lehigh counties: Panther Valley, Pen Argyl, East Stroudsburg North, Lehighton, Palisades.

Fans who bemoan the dominance of non-boundry schools in high school sports will be delighted to learn that 50 of the 52 state qualifiers from the Southeast Region (Districts 1, XI, and XII) were from public schools.

The competition itself is also a great deal of fun. There are lots of headlocks and throws. As Northampton head coach Joe Provini put it, “In a way it’s the purest form of the sport. They just go out there and try to score points.”

While the reaction to the sport was overwhelmingly positive, there are a few issues that will need to be addressed in order for the sport to continue to grow.

The first issue is regulatory. If a school does not have a separate girls wrestling team, any girls wrestling for the school are deemed to be on the boys team. This runs afoul of the PIAA rule limiting teams to 22 competition points in the regular season.

If a girl wrestles in a girls tournament without being part of an official girls team, her participation uses competition points from the boys’ allotment of 22. There were many girls who came to districts with 0-0 records because their schools had no girls team and they did not get into any matches against boys.

One solution to this problem bumps into another of the issues facing the sport.

There is no minimum participation requirement for a school to form a girls team, so if a school had one female wrestler, she could be the entire team. However, girls and boys events are not always held concurrently, which puts strain on a coach that has to go to multiple events. That happened this postseason in districts and regionals, which were held on different days and at different sites than the boys tournaments.

What if a school created a girls team with the idea of giving opportunities to a single wrestler and 10 girls unexpectedly signed up for the team? Now a separate coach is almost certainly needed because any coach trying to run two distinct programs is going to get quickly burned out.

The sport will continue to evolve. Some problems will be solved and new ones will arise. Clearly there is interest from athletes and that will continue to grow, at least in the near term. It is also apparent that there is support from the wider wrestling community and fan base. It is a welcome addition to the winter sports portfolio.