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The City Journals

Logistics still need tweaking, but girls wrestling officially sanctioned

Jun 22, 2020 12:29PM ● By Greg James

Girls wrestlers such as Angie Magana will no longer compete against boys as the Utah High School Activities Association has sanctioned girls wrestling. (Greg James/City Journals)

By Greg James and Julie Slama | [email protected] 

The Utah High School Activities Association has sanctioned girls wrestling .

“Yes, I voted to sanction it,” UHSAA board of trustees member Marilyn Richards said. “I’m a fan of making an opportunity where the interest lies.”

The UHSAA currently supports 14 sports and activities for 155 member schools. Utah is the 20th state to sanction girls wrestling.

The sanctioning laid the groundwork for an official state championship tournament to be held in February 202. In the meantime, there are many obstacles to overcome, including classifications, weight classes, regions and logistics. Some schools still need practice times and coaches.

Girls will no longer wrestle against boys, which has been a huge sticking point.

In 2016, Davis County student-athlete Kathleen Janis, and her family, sued the school district to allow her to join the junior high wrestling team. After the suit was settled, Janis was allowed to try out for her school's team. As a graduating senior, she wrestled for three years at Layton High School.

Sage Mortimer, from Spanish Fork, is the No. 1-ranked female wrestler in the country at 100 pounds, and yet she still finds boys who refuse to compete against her.

As a non-sanctioned sport, the athletes were forced to participate in coed teams throughout their high school seasons. Coed wrestling can be difficult for the girls. Boys of the same weight class are generally stronger, and boys did not want to wrestle against their female counterparts.

“It's a boys only team,” they were told by many league organizers.

The national organization, USA Wrestling, has sponsored several girls only meets to help promote the sport.

In February, there was a fifth girls state championship at Telos High School in Orem. Westlake High School won the title, Fremont placed second and Cyprus was third. In 2019, Kearns took home the championship. 

The number of girls participating in wrestling has increased steadily. In 2019, 78 girls participated in the state tournament; this past season 117 did. Cyprus had a team of 16. According to the National Federation of High School Associations, the number of female wrestlers has nearly doubled the last three years.

“Girls are already wrestling in schools, so this way they can put things in place,” Richards said.

“We have had girls every year,” Hillcrest Athletic Director Sally Williams said. “We have not had enough to hire a separate coach. Being sanctioned will give girls an equal playing field.”

Being sanctioned allows girls to wrestle other girls but does not solve all the sports problems. Finding coaches and organizing into regions and classifications is going to be a big job.

Hunter High School is currently looking for a coach for its girls team. Athletic Director Pam Olson said they have posted the position three times and have had no applicants.

Cyprus recently hired Jhonny Carrero to take over the program from former head coach Cara Romeike who moved on to become the women’s wrestling head coach at Hastings College.

“I met the right people at the right time,” Carrero said. “I think we have a great team returning. We have two state placers and a returning state champion. The girls are spreading the word. When school starts, I think more girls will be interested, especially when they see the environment. We are a team; we want to win a title this year.”

The Pirates have had 18 girls attend summer conditioning. Carrero expects 25–30 to join the team by the time the season starts.

“I have scheduled a couple of duels already,” Carrero said. “I know Westlake and Fremont want to get together, and there are a few smaller schools that are trying to start programs. We are trying to work together as a wrestling community to build the sport.” 

Schools in the Midwest often offer women's wrestling as a competitive sport.

“Sanctioning is a great thing,” Carrero said. “Wrestling could give these girls opportunities after high school. There are many places for these ladies. The sport is growing and growing fast. Ladies should join the ride. The bonds they can build with teammates is what can last forever.”