This weekend will mark the return of one of Iowa’s truly unique events. The state wrestling tournament is a highlight of the state’s sports calendar.
For three days, Iowa’s best high school wrestlers will take to the mats in Des Moines. It’s an absolute frenzy. By the time the finals arrive, fans are as keyed up as you’ll find at any event. Frankly, we doubt most states could pack an arena the way Iowa does for any sport, let alone one that has the comparatively small national footprint of wrestling.
But Iowa does wrestling better than any other state. The fans know what to look for and they recognize when a great effort or gutsy performance stands out, even if it’s in a losing effort. If you’ve never gone before, it’s well worth seeing.
The arrival of the state tournament leaves us wondering, though. Why has Iowa, of all states, lagged behind in the development of girls’ wrestling?
The absence of a formalized girls wrestling program at the high school level is even more striking when you consider the development of women’s wrestling programs at the collegiate level. Indian Hills has announced plans to introduce both men’s and women’s programs. William Penn in Oskaloosa has hired Tucker Black to be the school’s first women’s wrestling coach.
In 2019, 87 competitors took part in the first Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Girls’ State Wrestling Tournament. There’s no question that the interest and enthusiasm was real. It’s a good foundation to build on.
There was a time when girls or women on the mats could be dismissed as a small handful of people who weren’t reflective of broader interest from female athletes. That argument is getting harder and harder to make. Schools don’t create programs and make the investments they require on a lark. They do it when they think there’s enough interest to help them boost student numbers.
Iowa’s historic strength in wrestling derives in no small part from the experience students have participating at the high school level. They have the opportunity to compete. Parents and siblings see the sport up close. And they fall in love with it.
Expanding opportunities to include girls wrestling could only benefit the sport in the long run. Women’s wrestling is growing at the collegiate level, and Iowa would be well-advised to take advantage of that to create high school programs. Failure to do so only raises the possibility that other states will take an insurmountable lead, potentially undermining Iowa’s long-term place in the sport.
Iowa’s sports history has some wonderful chapters. It’s time to write a new one.