Wrestling gyms across North Dakota are growing, as the sport continues to bring in new participants each and every year, but there’s still more room for growth. Something coaches, and girl’s, across the state are hoping will come soon.
There’s a push for a new evolution of one sport in North Dakota by coaches and athletes alike.
“I think as coaches we have to encourage our girls to give it a chance,” Hettinger-Scranton coach Randy Burwick said.
Girls wrestling. A sport that is growing like wildfire across the U.S., and North Dakotans say the spark is already lit to join the movement.
“If we’re good ambassadors for the sport of wrestling itself, we need to be good ambassadors for the sport of girls wrestling also,” Burwick said.
Girls are able to wrestle in North Dakota right now, but they often have to compete against boys, something that is seen as unfair.
“I feel like it would be beneficial towards us, because girls and boys bodies they are built completely different,” Hettinger-Scranton wrestler Ellie Roseland said. “Whereas a 120 pound guy is so much stronger than a 120 pound girl, it’s going to be a one-sided match for us, and they’re going to beat us almost every time.”
Now, coaches are making a push to sanction girls wrestling as its own sport, creating a new level of fair competition.
“There’s girls that truly have a passion for the sport of wrestling just like boys, and I want to see them get their best opportunity,” Burwick said.
29 states have sanctioned girls wrestling. An increase from just six in 2017.
“You know, it’s not going away,” U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling team, and Bismarck native, Terry Steiner said. “That’s the thing I want people to understand too. We’ve had continual growth at the high school level for 30 years.”
Montana has more than 170 participants in its first year since sanctioning the sport. South Dakota has gone from 15 to 150 participants in the same time frame.
“The growth of girls wrestling really took off as soon as it was sanctioned, and again it’s something we’re really looking forward to if that’s something — as soon as next year — and again, it’ll be happening pretty quickly here,” NDHSAA executive director Matt Fetsch said. “Just kind of an exciting time for the wrestling community as a whole.”
North Dakota could become the 30th state to sanction girls wrestling as early as March. A formal request to sanction the sport came from 12 schools a year ago. The NDHSAA board of directors will revisit the idea this spring, which is the earliest the sport can be sanctioned.
“With everything we’ve seen and heard up to this point I don’t know what reason they would have not to add it just with the seamlessness of how it would all work,” Fetsch said.
Right now North Dakota has around 50 female high school wrestlers. That’s a number that Fetsch, coaches and athletes all expect to increase dramatically once the sport is sanctioned.
“It’s the right thing to do for the sport on the men’s side and the women’s side to sanction the sport,” Steiner said. “The numbers are there. The numbers are growing, and we’ve shown in other states that if you throw the opportunity there the numbers will come.”
Just this month North Dakota girls made state history.
“I was just thinking, ‘How am I going to get competition for these girls?'” South Border wrestling coach Josh Hoffman said. “So I seen Central Cass had this many girls, and I talked to Travis and Lamar, and we just said this is great. Our girls, their weights aren’t all the same, but let’s do this. Let’s have a girls dual.”
The states’ first all-girls wrestling meet playing out in Casselton, North Dakota, featuring 15 wrestlers from South Border, Central Cass and Larimore.
“It was great,” South Border junior Gracie Hoffman said. “We’re making history out here. We didn’t win, but it’s okay. We tried our hardest and I think we did pretty good for our first dual.”
Winning or losing doesn’t matter to these girls. It’s about doing something that has never been done before.
“We’re the pioneers of the state,” Roseland said. “We’re the first girls out here to actually start to get another sport going in our state. We’re the pioneers. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose. If we win, good for us. If we lose, oh well, we’ll get them next time.”
All these girls want is a fair chance.
“It would be amazing if I got that opportunity to take first in state and be the first girl to take first,” Grace Hoffman said. “It would be really awesome.”
This year could be one for change as these girls wait for their opportunity on the big stage in hopes of making history.
“It’s not about what I thought about it, but like what my daughters when they have grandkids — and you know hopefully this girls wrestling takes off and it’s just a huge thing in 40 years and they can sit in the Fargo Dome and look back in a book and say, ‘We’re the beginning of this,'” Josh Hoffman said.”
There will be an all-girls state championship tournament following the NDHSAA finals on February 20, but it isn’t sanctioned by the high school activities association.