Over the last 10 years, one of the fastest growing sports in Wisconsin and across the United States has been women’s wrestling. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control took notice and recently acted on a coaches committee recommendation to start a tournament series for girls wrestling.
“This has been talked about for some time now,” DeForest wrestling coach Tyler Rauls said. “We as coaches talked about it a lot last year and everyone I spoke to agreed that it was time for something for the girls. This seems like the appropriate first step for the girls. We can now start building a culture for girls wrestling.”
A much-discussed coaches’ recommendation to add a girls division to the State Tournament Series in wrestling was amended to conduct a girls-only individual tournament in 2021-22. Girls and boys will be permitted to wrestle each other during the regular season, but the Tournament Series will be gender exclusive.
“I’m excited about it,” Waunakee coach Mark Natzke said. “It is a growing sport over the last 10 years. To have the ability to compete in a level playing field is huge for them.”
The vote was passed unanimously, 10-0.
“It’s past due,” Lodi coach Cody Endres said. “It’s awesome that it has finally come to fruition. People have been pushing for this to get done for many years. The sport has taken the nation by storm. There are 26 states that already sanction girls wrestling. Everyone’s hard work has paid off.”
The Norski wrestling program has had a handful of girls compete at the high school level over the past 20 years. Rauls expects that number to increase with the decision by the WIAA.
“DeForest has always had girls wrestling in our Gold Medal youth program and the high school and middle school teams,” Rauls said. “I think this decision will help keep the girls in the sport past the youth level. They can wrestle and compete with their friends on the high school team and then at the end of the year, they can compete with the girls to see how they shake out. It’s an awesome opportunity.”
Natzke has been with the Warrior wrestling program for eight years and in that time, they have not had any girls on the team. But this past winter, the Waunakee youth club had 14 girls competing in grades K-8.
“I think girls wrestling will grow at the high school level,” Natzke said. “It is already big at the youth level. They have their own division at the youth state tournament. I think more and more girls will give it a shot.”
Natzke plans to recruit more girls to wrestle and has set up a high school schedule that includes tournaments with both boys and girls divisions. The Warriors own tournament has a girls division.
“There are a couple of girls who are incoming freshmen who have wrestled,” Natzke said. “We have some other girls who have shown some interest in wrestling. We have tried to set up our schedule, so the girls will have some opportunities to wrestle other girls. We have five tournaments scheduled that have girls only divisions.”
Rauls says he is always recruiting wrestlers whether they are boys or girls.
“We recruit anybody that has passion and want to give the sport a try,” Rauls said. “We are always looking for anybody who wants to join our family. I encourage any kid in DeForest to give Norski wrestling a try.”
Like Natzke, Endres has not had any girls on Lodi’s roster in his time with the program.
“This past winter, we had two girls on the middle school team and we have some wrestling at the youth level. There definitely is interest in our community,” Endres said. “They have watched their brothers compete and want the same opportunities. I expect our numbers to spike as well as those statewide.”
Endres said the decision by the WIAA is long overdue.
“We owe it to the girls to do what we can for them,” Endres said. “It is great to have them a part of the boys team, but they deserve their own state tournament. We don’t have girls basketball play in the boys tournament. Having their own state tournament will showcase what the girls can do.”
All three local coaches are hopeful the WIAA’s decision will eventually lead to girls having their own separate teams.
“It would be great for the sport to have two different teams with two separate coaches staffs and budgets,” Endres said.
Girls wrestling is nothing new to the area, Poynette has hosted a number of events in the past five years. In 2015, the Poynette Panther Wrestling Club and the Club @Damage Inc., Women’s Wrestling Week, while in 2018 the groups hosted the first stand-alone Wisconsin Wrestling Federation women’s high school folkstyle state tournament.
In other wrestling-related Board action, Trackwrestling.com will be used to randomly place sectional champions on the State Individual Tournament brackets in all divisions with the second- and third-place sectional finishers placed on the opposite half of the bracket beginning in 2021.
In recognition of the challenges many students may have experienced with access and adapting to virtual schooling last spring following school closures because of COVID-19, the Board voted unanimously to allow a school option to defer academic eligibility grade requirements for all students until the first grading period of the 2020-21 school year. The executive office will be providing additional guidance for members in the coming days.
Another Board decision in response to the COVID-19 pandemic extends the window one week to use the coaches’ five unrestricted coaching days for this summer only. This allows 11-player football coaches unrestricted contact through Aug. 1 and all other coaches through Aug. 8. The extended period reflects a heightened emphasis on acclimatization for the health and safety for student-athletes.
In an effort to address the impact on the operational budget following the cancellation of revenue-producing tournaments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board approved a number of Executive Staff recommendations to increase revenue and contain expenditures in 2020-21. All regional, sectional and State Tournament ticket prices will be increased $1. In addition, State Tournament school mileage reimbursements for team and individual travel will decrease 50 cents per mile for 2020-21 only, and the regional and sectional host revenue sharing percentage will be decreased by 5 percent for one year only. Furthermore, Sports Advisory Committee meetings and all sport Coaches Advisory Committee meetings will be conducted virtually in 2020-21, and mileage reimbursement for board, staff, committees and officials will be reduced 5 cents per mile.
COMPUTERIZED SEEDING SYSTEM FOR BASKETBALL
For boys and girls basketball, the Board approved implementing a computerized seeding system for the State Tournament Series. The system will be developed by the WIAA with the goal to have it available in 2020-21, and no later than 2021-22. This action will require members designated as the home team to enter the scores of all their regular-season games into the WIAA Score Center database purposes starting in the 2020-21 season.
Three gymnastics recommendations received approval. One eliminates the language “multi-school meets involving four or more teams may stop the warm-up time for bar and vault changes” from the regulations. Another alters the admissions policy for sectionals and the State Team Tournament to provide free admissions for a maximum 15 individuals on a team. The third adds the language to add a safety zone mat, in compliance with NFHS vault rules, to the list of equipment required to host the sectional meet.
In hockey, the Board approved retaining a two-division State Tournament Series indefinitely by eliminating the experiment language from the existing regulations. Also approved was a recommendation for the State Boys Hockey Tournament to involve the head coaches of qualifying teams for both divisions to determine seeds for each division beginning in 2021.
The one other hockey recommendation supported by the Board implements an eight-minute, sudden victory overtime period followed by a five minute three-on-three period during the regular season. If no winner is determined after the two overtime periods, the game is recorded as a tie. In a tie following regulation during the tournament series, an eight-minute sudden victory overtime period will be played. If no victor is determined, the ice will be resurfaced followed by a 17-minute sudden victory overtime period. If a winner is still not determined, a five-minute, four-on-four sudden victory period will be played and then a five-minute, three-on-three sudden victory period if necessary. If a winner remains undecided, a 17-minute, three-on-three sudden victory period will be played after a resurfacing of the ice.