Cedar Bluffs Public Schools will be hosting its first-ever all girls wrestling tournament, joining a growing statewide push to create more opportunity for girl wrestlers to compete.
The tournament will be held this Saturday, Feb. 2, beginning at 10 a.m., and it will feature 40 wrestlers from eight different schools. Admission is free. The tournament was envisioned as a way “to continue to promote high school girls wrestling in the state of Nebraska,” according to a Facebook post from Cedar Bluffs Public Schools.
Cedar Bluffs hopes the tournament will become an annual event, says Jay Parker, the head wrestling coach at Cedar Bluffs.
“It’s a push from us because I’ve got girls that want to wrestle and they didn’t want to wrestle boys,” Parker said.
This weekend’s tournament comes ahead of an April vote by school delegates with the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) that would decide whether Nebraska will sanction girls wrestling as an official school sport.
If it passes, girls wrestling could become an NSAA-sanctioned school sport for the 2019-2020 school year. It’s already passed two prior votes.
Currently, if girls want to wrestle at the varsity level in Nebraska, they must join a boys varsity team. In those cases, they must either compete against other boys, or join the limited number of all-girls tournaments or divisions that have sprouted up around the state in recent years.
But female Cedar Bluffs students have become increasingly interested in wrestling in recent years, Parker said.
Last year, he had one girl wrestler on the team. This year, he started with four, though one moved away. Now, the team has four total members: three girls and one boy.
Girls are occasionally at a disadvantage when wrestling against boys, Parker said — in part because “physically, they don’t match up all the time” and because boys have often had more exposure to wrestling because there have been more opportunities for them to compete.
“The girls just started,” Parker said.
Interest in girls wrestling has been on the upswing for several reasons, said Ron Higdon, assistant director with the NSAA.
Taboos around girls fighting or wrestling are starting to dissolve with sports like MMA or women’s boxing. And in smaller schools that don’t have a swimming program, there are few winter sports outside of basketball.
“This would create another option in the winter for girls to compete,” Higdon said of girls wrestling.
Girls wrestling has seen a push in Nebraska in recent years. The number of all-girls tournaments or girls divisions added onto boys tournaments has jumped from three to about 10 in the past three years, Higdon said.
Higdon believes that the popularity of the sport would increase even more if the April vote passes. He noted that he often fields calls from parents who won’t allow their girls to wrestle on a boys team — but who would allow them to do so on a girls team.
In the past year, the number of states that had sanctioned girls wrestling through their respective school activities association doubled from six to 12, Higdon said.
If the vote were to pass, some smaller schools may face some initial challenges, Higdon said. That’s because girls would no longer be able to practice or compete with boys as they can now. For small schools that have only one girl on the team, it limits their ability to find a practice partner.
Higdon said that schools would be able to co-op with other school districts that have female wrestlers — up to four schools can co-op together.
He believes that, overall, sanctioning girls wrestling will create more opportunities for girls to compete.
“This is a nationwide push to have girls wrestling,” Higdon said. “High school athletics, regardless of what the sport is, is an important part of the overall picture of your high school experience, and really, giving opportunities is what [NSAA] is about. I think that it would be a really positive move for the girls.”