Girls high school wrestling has spread to six U.S. states and its numbers have increased over the past 12 years, with 400 percent more athletes involved now than in 2000 and 1,000 more participants in each of the past two years.
The sport has suffered its growing pains on Guam, but the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam’s league is now in its third season. And while not every school has a team and not every weight class is filled for every dual meet, interest is increasing, officials say.
“There was a need,” Guam High coach Ed Paz said. “It’s growing. We’re doing our best. The past few years, there’s been more interest in girls wrestling.”
Paz’s Panthers are 5-1-1 and feature an undefeated 130-pounder, junior Katrina Joiner, entering the league’s final event, the IIAAG All-Island championships on Friday and Saturday at Simon Sanchez High School.
“She’s a very aggressive wrestler. My premonition is, she’ll win all-island gold,” Paz said of Joiner, who transferred from Radford High in Hawaii, a girls wrestling hotbed, last summer.
Before that, she spent a year at Maryland’s Patuxent High, wrestling against boys. “I was the only girl and it was hard,” Joiner said. “It was fun, but it was my first year, I was just learning, so I was kind of angry.”
Joiner knew she was only going to be in Maryland briefly and was due to go to Radford as a sophomore, where she wrestled in one of three states with a thriving girls league. “I was excited because I wasn’t going to be the only girl on the team anymore,” she said.
Then after one year it was on to Guam, which also excited her because she’d known Guam’s league had gotten off the ground. “It’s more competitive in Hawaii,” she said, but “I feel more confident in what I can do with my abilities. I had some good coaches in Hawaii.
The IIAAG league was the brainchild of league president and George Washington High School athletics director Martin Boudreau.
“We got enough girls, enough that justified the presence of the league,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think it’s right that girls go up against boys. Better that each wrestles the same sex and to give girls their own league was the right thing to do.”
Girls are simply at a physical disadvantage against boys, said Joiner and a former Guam High wrestler who won two girls IIAAG island titles, Stefani Loisel, who’s now in the Air Force.
“Boys have stronger upper bodies than girls,” Joiner said.
“It doesn’t matter what gender; you wrestle your behind off because you want to win,” said Loisel, who wrestled against boys at the DODDS Pacific Far East meet. “I went from having an advantage on my (girls) opponent by being a tad stronger, to being on the lower hand and having to work harder.”
Since 2000, when girls wrestlers numbered 2,434 from coast to coast, those numbers have increased to 8,235 in Texas, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, California and Tennessee, according to Pat Tocci, who’s coached at Harvard, Kutztown and Bethlehem Catholic (Pa.) and who has conducted clinics on Guam.
“We are seeing constant growth in girls wrestling at the high school level,” Tocci said. Based on the numbers the last two years, “I think this growth will continue.”
Teaching and coaching techniques are pretty much the same for boys and girls, Boudreau and Paz said, and the boys and girls teams do travel together to away meets. About the only difference, Boudreau said, is equipment; girls tend to wear two garments, a singlet and an athletic brassiere.
The question is how much and how quickly the sport will grow. Texas and Hawaii have much larger numbers and were “ahead of the curve” in promoting girls wrestling, Tocci said. But in all other states, as well as Guam, filling weight classes is still an issue, especially at the upper weights, while lower weight classes are almost always overpopulated, Paz said.
While girls wrestling has been discussed at DODDS Pacific Far East athletics directors meetings, the numbers of girls wrestlers are so low, it may be years before a Far East meet for girls would be considered, officials said.