Bill Stafford | Outdoors Columnist | 03/30/2011
There have been many examples of women competing with, and sometimes dominating, men in their own sports. But what would you do as a man if across from you at one of the biggest venues for your combative sport is a girl?
At the Iowa wrestling state championship tournament on Feb 17, heavily favored Joel Northrup defaulted his state-quarterfinal match because his religious beliefs about not competing in a combative sport with a female. Cassy Herkelman, a freshman at Cedar Falls high school, was matched up against Joel in the 112 lb. division.
This is an extraordinary scenario because there are plenty of women competing with men on the pro circuit, but none in a sport as physical and as combative as wrestling. One of the biggest stars of women vs. men history was Billie Jean King who competed, and won, against Bobby Riggs in 1973.
King beat her male opponent in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3—it wasn’t even close. Cassy shared that feeling of success as well this season by collecting a 25-13 record going into the quarterfinals Thursday.
Northrup declined to wrestle another female prior to this occasion, and both parties in that situation, as well as this one Thursday, are extremely respectful to everyone’s decisions. So what we have here is not only are women competing and winning in sports heavily dominated by males, but everyone is playing nice too. This is the epitome of sportsmanship when two families can agree with, and respect each other when such heavy values and ethics are tested.
Females in male sports have not always had such respect tossed their way. Much controversy surrounded LPGA golfer Michelle Wie when she wanted to play with the boys, not only because of her gender, but because of her age.
Danica Patrick has been labeled a publicity stunt, and has even been labeled as having an advantage because of her size, on the NASCAR and Indy Car circuits. Although there is no “woman’s” stock car racing, and even though the sport is dangerous, it is not as violent and combative as wrestling and many people blowing up the blog boards don’t blame Northrup for defaulting.
Michelle Wie and Billie Jean King both had ways to play against women, but high-school girls who want to wrestle don’t have much of an opportunity to compete against their own sex. Most states require females to wrestle with males, but a few states like California, Texas and Tennessee promote funding for woman’s wrestling.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, over 6,000 girls participated in wrestling in comparison to the 275,000 boys. However, there is enough interest in woman’s wrestling for the nation to pay attention.
Whether or not you agree with Northrup’s choice, if there is something better than watching women like Herkelman, Wie and Patrick compete and succeed against the boys, it’s watching cooler heads prevail when such emotional, religious and ethical values are involved. It’s good for sportsmanship, athletics and us as people.
*Wrestler names, records, and National Federation of State High-school Association statistic credited to Luke Meredith, Associated Press.