Shouts and scattered cheering broke out intermittently from all corners of the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Lancaster on Sunday, as about 125 girls wrestled in the 2021 MyHouse PA Girls State Championship. But the high school girls would have preferred to compete in Hershey, just like the boys did for their wrestling state championship a week earlier, as a sanctioned sport in Pennsylvania.
SanctionPA is one grassroots effort working toward this goal. The PIAA requires that at least 100 schools across Pennsylvania have dedicated girls’ wrestling teams for the sport to be sanctioned. Leah Wright, media liaison for SanctionPA said that despite COVID-19, the group has seen a slight increase in the number of girls wrestling this year, and anticipates that the number will grow if the sport is sanctioned. Girls’ wrestling has already seen a significant jump in recent years, growing from 5,000 participants in 2008 to 16,562 in 2018, according to a national survey.
So far only nine schools in Pennsylvania have such teams, which means any girl in high school who wants to wrestle must compete with the boys. This is the case for schools like Pottstown in Montgomery County. The four female athletes on the wrestling team were not deterred from the sport, knowing they would have to compete against boys, but they wish that were not the case.
“Wrestling guys in general, it’s always going to be tougher because naturally they make more muscle than we do,” said Julianna Figueroa, a senior who finished second in her weight class this year. “Being able to have a sanctioned sport for just the girls to compete, it’s more equal.”
“What I know, I can actually put that out there on the mat, I can actually execute the things I’ve been practicing,” she continued.
Zoe Earle, also a senior, described the lopsided competition as “mentally deteriorating.”
But neither this nor an altered season due to COVID-19 deterred the seniors, who enjoyed the camaraderie of the season, and who believe in the continued fight for a sanctioned sport, even as they weigh continuing on with the sport in college.