Girls and women's wrestling is growing by leaps and bounds throughout the U.S. Wisconsin is no exception, as some wrestling officials within the state are seeking to make America's Dairyland the seventh state to have a girls-only division at the state wrestling championships.
If that were to happen, Wisconsin would join Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington which already have a girls-only competition in their state tournaments.
"It's not a question of if, it's when (for Wisconsin)," Randy Ferrell, the West Allis Hale coach who also serves as president of the WWCA (Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association), told the Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald, which did a 1,500-word feature story on girls wrestling in the state.
"If it was up to me, I would have it for the girls for the (20)18-19 season, but we all know things take time."
Others involved in the sport in Wisconsin say a new girls' division could be in place as soon as next season, but more likely within the next three to five years, according to the newspaper.
Initial steps to make this happen have already taken place. In July 2016, members of the WWCA and WWF (Wisconsin Wrestling Federation) got together to draft a proposal for a separate girls' division, then presented it to the WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) one year ago.
"There is a proposal, but it is not something that can just be slammed through," said Wade Labecki, deputy director of the WIAA. "We are going to take it through the process. You want to make sure the numbers are there to justify a complete separate division."
While the actual number of girls wrestling in high schools throughout Wisconsin isn't huge, the numbers are increasing ... demonstrating a nearly 50 percent growth rate over the past five seasons.
Through late November, there were 187 girls involved with a high school wrestling program in the state. The Wausau newspaper figured the participation levels by looking at the number of wrestlers who have gone through the hydration and skin-fold tests through the Wisconsin Weight Management plan, information that is entered into and managed in the state by Trackwrestling.com.
WWCA's Randy Ferrell said 102 schools across the state have at least one female wrestler, while 20 have at least three. At least three high schools - Milwaukee Reagan, Kenosha Indian Trail, and River Falls - each have at least nine female wrestlers on their rosters.
"There are girls showing interest in wrestling in Wisconsin and across the country," said Kevin Black, wrestling coach at River Falls High who also serves as women's freestyle coach for the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation. "We already have a couple hundred girls who are involved with boys wrestling now, and I think we are already past the time when a girls-only wrestling opportunity should be available in the state."
Nationwide, nearly 15,000 girls wrestle in high school. To provide these athletes additional opportunities to continue in their sport once they graduate from high school, more colleges are establishing women's wrestling programs.
Just last month, Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis. announced it would have a women's program take to the mats for the first time in fall 2018. Lakeland will be the 40th member college to join the Women's College Wrestling Association (WCWA), with programs competing in NCAA Divisions II and III, as well as in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and community college schools.
"We want to be one of the pioneers with this sport," Lakeland coach Ben Chapman, who also heads the men's wrestling program, said in a news release announcing the move. "With more states offering wrestling at the high school level and the ranks of the WCWA growing, the trends are impressive and we're excited to be the first school in Wisconsin to offer a college program."
Growth in girls' wrestling at the high school level comes as a number of states - including Wisconsin - are witnessing lower participation rates among boys. The WIAA states that there are now 17 percent fewer boys wrestling in high school than a decade ago, with some programs having problems fielding wrestlers in every weight class.