By Robert Galbreath
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
PINEDALE – Sublette County School District No. 1 became the eighth district in the state to throw its support behind a proposal to form a girls’ wrestling division on Feb. 10.
Trustees voted unanimously to add their signatures to a letter submitted to the Wyoming High School Activities’ Association (WHSAA) written by Pinedale High School Activities Director Jake Rich sanctioning girls’ wrestling.
With eight districts on board, the proposition will now go before WHSAA membership at a district meeting in late March or early April before being presented to the WHSAA Board of Directors for discussion and approval, said commissioner Ron Laird.
The WHSAA plans to form a girls’ wrestling committee, including coaches and activities directors, to look into the logistics of how a girls’ wrestling division would operate, similar to the process used to establish softball as an approved high school sport in 2019 Laird explained.
“I think a majority of schools will support girls’ wrestling once this gets moving,” he said.
The WHSAA’s goal is to have girls’ wrestling “in place” by the next winter sports season if “this is what schools want,” Laird said. He envisioned the girls’ division competing at the same meets scheduled for boys over the first few seasons, with girls competing separately at the culminating State Tournament.
The WHSAA would look into separate events for girls as the sport grows in Wyoming, he said.
During the public comment period, Pinedale High School head wrestling coach Kendall Horrocks stated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Title IX was a “great opportunity to introduce the sport of female wrestling.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects athletes from discrimination based on gender at educational programs receiving federal funding.
PHS offers 10 sports designated for boys and nine for girls, Horrocks stressed, and the addition of girls’ wrestling would balance opportunities for both genders.
Girls’ and women’s wrestling grew significantly in popularity over the past two decades, Horrocks explained. In 2009, approximately 6,000 girls competed in wrestling compared to more than 21,000 in 2019. The Olympics allowed women’s wrestling beginning in 2004, and more than 121 collegiate women’s wrestling programs exist across the nation.
Wyoming “stood alone” among its neighbors as the only state in the West and Midwest not to sanction girls’ wrestling, Horrocks told the board.
Numerous girls competed for the Wranglers over the past several years, he added, including two athletes this season. Pitting girls against boys on the mat often created “difficult situations” and was a “lose-lose situation” for the athletes involved.
During the 2021-2022 winter season, girls on the Pinedale wrestling team have competed in separate divisions at the Tournament of Champions in Vernal, Utah and the Ron Thon Memorial Invitational in Riverton, Horrocks said. The opportunity was a “great experience” for the girls, he added.
Logan Gehlhausen, owner of SPEAR Strength and Performance, echoed Horrocks’ sentiments supporting girls’ wrestling as a “new opportunity for female athletes in the winter.”
Gehlhausen worked with many local athletes, and praised sports for teaching young people discipline, hard work and how to deal with the emotions that accompany winning and losing.
Competition is “a lot more fun when it’s on an even playing field,” Gehlhausen said, and “current female wrestlers and future athletes will appreciate the (boards’) support” of girls’ wrestling.
Trustee Chris Nelson said he backed the proposal. Limiting athletic opportunities was not the path to take, he added. He learned this lesson the hard way when the board received overwhelming opposition from parents and students to a budget reduction plan in January 2021 to eliminate several sports programs.
Chairman Jamison Ziegler told the board he admired girls brave enough to compete against boys. A separate division for girls to wrestle on an even playing field “would be great,” he added.
Trustee Rachel Weksler said she “loved the idea” of a girls’ wrestling division.