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February 24th, 2011 |

Clearing the way for equality


At the beginning of every round at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament, five familiar words were announced: “Gentleman, please clear the mats.” That phrase changed in recent years, submitting the word “gentleman” to “wrestlers.” And for good reason.

The current Iowa High School Athletic Association rules allow for boys and girls to wrestle each other. Every wrestler knows this, including Linn-Mar High School’s Joel Northrup, who chose not to wrestle against a girl at last week’s state tournament. He clearly understood that he could end up wrestling Cassy Herkelman, a freshman girl competing for Cedar Falls. Northrup was faced with that dilemma earlier in the year against the same opponent, but his coach moved another wrestler to that weight class to cover for him.

That was an early-season contest. This was the state tournament.

Northrup earned the right to compete at state by placing in the top two at the district qualifying tournament. Had he not wanted to compete, he should have stayed home and allowed another wrestler the opportunity. That would have been the appropriate time for him to stand up for his convictions. Not on the mat at Wells Fargo Arena.

Here’s the reality. Girls should not be wrestling boys. Set all the arguments aside and think about being the referee of a match between a boy and a girl when one of the wrestlers decides to blatantly fondle the other. What is a referee to do? Should the match be stopped? Should penalty points be awarded? This situation isn’t covered in the rulebook, and considering the physical nature of the sport, it would be difficult to regulate.

What is an athletic director to do? A tournament director? How would, or should, parents handle seeing their child groped in front of the home crowd? The end results will be lengthy lawsuits, leaving a bruise on a sport that has personified Iowa in so many ways.

The solution is simple, as girls should be allowed to compete in wrestling — just not against boys. A girls division should be created, starting with five weight classes and 16 participating schools in one division. The costs would be low, the risks would be minimal, and our state would be seen as progressive, leading the movement for equal rights and clearing the way for all athletes to compete in a sport that has become synonymous with our state. CV