The landscape of high school wrestling in Missouri is changing, and it’s for the better according to a few coaches in Eastern Jackson County.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association will implement girls-exclusive brackets in the postseason for the upcoming 2018-19 wrestling season.
During last month’s elections, MSHSAA members passed a proposal to make a separate division for girls in the postseason. There were 202 votes for and 41 against. The change will go into effect on Sunday.
The girls will have their own bracket during districts and the Missouri State High School Wrestling Championships. The girls district tournaments will take place a week prior to the boys tournament and there likely will be two districts, according to MSHSAA Communications Director Jason West.
The girls tournaments for the state competition will be on the same weekend as the boys, meaning there will be a girls state champion and boys champion in each weight class.
“I think this is terrific and it’s long overdue,” Fort Osage wrestling coach Brandon Wackerman said. “I’ve had at least a few girls in the program, whether it was in middle school or high school. I think more girls are likely to stick with it now that they have their own bracket. I think it’s good for the sport and for everyone.”
Grain Valley wrestling coach Jesse Whitson concurred.
“That’s the way our sport is trending right now,” he said. “You’re seeing girls wrestling at the college level, and it’s becoming more popular for girls to participate in. It’s a good thing for the longevity for our sport.”
Whitson, who is a part of state wrestling advisory committee, said MSHSAA will see how many girls participate in the sport next season, and will come up with weight classes for the girls in November. Like the boys, each girl will go through body fat testing, which will be a determining factor on selecting those weight classes.
Wackerman also noted there will likely be boys- and girls-exclusive brackets at some regular season tournaments, but it will be rare occurrence when females wrestle each other during duals.
“You won’t see many schools filling out a full roster of girls for duals,” Wackerman said. “There will be more opportunities for girls to wrestle other girls at tournaments. You’ll still probably see more experienced girls wrestle against both boys and girls.”
Wackerman said the postseason seeding for the girls will be determined by their record against other females.
The new postseason setup is a welcome change for Fort Osage junior Tess Kinne, who often wrestled against boys last season on the varsity squad.
“This will benefit me personally because it will keep me from getting injured due to the difference in strength a lot of boys have compared to a girl wrestler,” Kinne said. “And I would love to bring home a state title for my school as a team and individually, which hasn’t happened in several years in wrestling.”
Blue Springs coach Bobbe Lowe said that it was difficult for multiple parties in the past when a boy had to wrestle a girl.
“It’s difficult for the parents, it’s difficult for the female and it’s difficult for the male wrestling,” Lowe said. “It put a lot of people in a tough position, so this change is a move in the right direction so girls can compete against each other.”
Lowe and Whitson said girls have not yet expressed interest to them since the new rule was just passed in May. But both said that could change when school starts in August or within the next two to three years.
“This next year or two will be a feeling out process for us,” Whitson said. “We will see how it goes. That option is always there for girls. It will be interesting to see how it catches on from school to school.
“It all starts at the youth level. In order to build those numbers up (for girls), it will have to start at the lower levels, whether it’s at the youth level or in middle school.”
Wackerman, though, said he’s seen a significant boost interest from females at Fort Osage. He has had about 15 girls participate in workouts and camps over the summer.
So does that mean that the Fort Osage School District will have to hire additional staff for the wrestling team because of the increased female participation? Wackerman said that will be a wait-and-see approach.
“Fifteen girls is a good start,” Wackerman said. “We have certainly seen a rise in interest and I think that can only get better over time. We will get creative and assign which coach goes where when there is a boys and girls tournament on the same day.”
Kinne noted that four girls have committed to giving wrestling a try this coming winter.
“I was the first girl to ever wrestle varsity at Fort Osage, and I will say I endured a lot of injuries due to the lack of strength I have compared to the boys,” Kinne said. “And I was out for two varsity tournaments because of my injuries. This sanctioning of girls wrestling will even the playing field tremendously in skill and strength this next coming year, and I’m extremely excited to wrestle girls all year round now since I already compete on the Missouri Women’s National Team in freestyle and folkstyle wrestling.
“This next school year we will have another meeting in the fall and I’m excited to have others girls on the team next year, so it’s not just me out there!”