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Sandy Journal

Jordan among local high schools to welcome UHSAA’s newest sport: girls wrestling

Dec 10, 2020 09:41AM ● By Tavia Dutson

Girls wrestle at a training put on by Utah Wrestling. (Photo Courtesy Utah Girls Wrestling Facebook page)

By Tavia Dutson | [email protected]

While all high school sports coaches are trying to navigate seasons with new COVID-19 mandates, Utah’s wrestling coaches are facing another challenge—how to incorporate a girls’ program into their long existing boys’ programs. 

Although girls have long participated in boys wrestling, the Utah High School Athletics Association (UHSAA) is sanctioning girls wrestling for the first time this year. Now girls will have their own place where they can compete against other girls across the state.

“I anticipate girls wrestling to not only grow but also to draw a crowd, as much of a crowd as any other girls’ sport. I think that it’s a great opportunity for young women to find success,” said coach Kim Weaver, Brighton’s first girls wrestling coach.

When it came time for the administration and coaches to decide how to move forward with the girls wrestling program, both Brighton and Jordan high schools separately came to the same conclusion—a coed program. Similar to how high school cross country and swimming teams are set up, boys and girls will train together.

“We practice and train in the same room and have one big Brighton wrestling family,” Weaver said. “We just compete separately.”

The decision to add girls wrestling as a UHSAA sport came after years of high school girls competing in boys’ competitions. Girls will now be able to train alongside their male teammates but won’t have to compete against them. Wrestling fans and coaches alike hope this will increase turnout for this up-and-coming sport.

“I’ve seen plenty of girls handle themselves against boys. But for other girls it’s an opportunity to wrestle girls and feel more comfortable,” said Jordan coach Luis Cruz.

Cruz, in his first year at Jordan, accepted a job as the head girls wrestling coach in its inaugural year. Although there are many firsts for Cruz this year, his athletes are lucky to have an experienced coach. Cruz moves to Jordan after five years at West High School where he worked with the wrestling team. During his time there he was able to coach many successful girls, most notably Mia May, a three-time Utah club state champ.

Some moves, like the half-nelson, Cruz knows won’t be as common in girls wrestling. The half-nelson is a well-known wrestling hold in which an athlete pins an opponent down by putting a hand under their arm and locking it at the neck.

“There’s a couple of techniques that we can’t teach the girls, they’re more flexible than the boys. Girls can get out of half-nelsons because they have great mobility in their shoulders,” Cruz said.

Coaches at Brighton and Jordan plan to teach techniques to both boys and girls but work on those moves in separate groups. In wrestling, the feel of an opponent’s body forces athletes to adjust on the spot. Coaches will be able to critique form more accurately when practiced in different groups.

Although many head coaches will be new to girls wrestling, any coach with wrestling experience should be up to the task. Veteran coaches have learned to make adjustments for different weight classes.

“Heavy weights don’t wrestle the same as 106 (pounds), but in practice we give everyone the opportunity to learn the same skills,” Weaver said. “When we move to live wrestling, we allow them to use the combinations that work well for them and then coach them as individuals.”

Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the United States and Utah is among the first 20 states to sanction it as a high school sport. This progressive decision will allow girls more opportunities to participate in high school athletics. High school students who participate in sports are more likely to graduate high school and pursue higher education.

“I’m so happy to see it sanctioned. It gives the girls in the building another opportunity, another sport to try and build upon their high school resume. That’s what it’s all about, giving kids more opportunities,” Cruz said.

With only a small percentage of high school athletes moving on to college and professional athletics, administrators know that participation in sports provides students with lessons that reach beyond the court, field or mat. As an individual endurance sport, wrestlers learn how to persevere in a difficult match even when they are alone on the mat.

“I hope that as we build the girls program here that we can build strong women who can confront not only obstacles and challenges on the mat, but in life with the same resilience, tenacity and determination that one needs on the mat,” Weaver said.

Both Weaver and Cruz are ecstatic to take the lead at their prospective schools. As they welcome girls into the wrestling room, they can’t wait to start helping their athletes learn a new skill.

As Weaver says, “Women are powerful. This is just another opportunity for them to show it.”