How much is a victory worth if you didn’t win?
On Thursday Cassy Herkelman had to confront this question as she became the first female to “win” a match in Iowa’s state wrestling tournament for high school students. Her opponent, Joel Northtrup, a favorite in the 112-pound weight class, defaulted rather than face a girl on the mat. Northtrup cited his religious convictions (he is a student homeschooled by his evangelical minister family, but he wrestles on his local public school’s team [the legal fight that allowed homeschooled students to participate on sports teams is interesting, if you are ever interested]).
None of Herkelman’s other opponents refused to face her and she was eliminated after losing two matches. The other female competitor, Megan Black, also lost all of her matches, with no opponents declining to face her. So it’s possible Northtrup was afraid to lose to a girl and his religious beliefs were a convenient excuse (I am in no position at all to judge the strength of his convictions, I’m merely suggesting an alternative hypothesis in the tradition of Larry Summers).
Is this Title IX run a muck? Should males and females be segregated even if there isn’t a separate but equal system in place?
Based on my research on gender, sports, and injuries, I believe that boys and girls should have separate competitive outlets when it comes to physical sporting activities. This is especially true after puberty when male and female bodies start to drastically differ in their amounts of body fat and muscle (at younger ages I have actually observed, and some research has shown, a bigger advantage for girls because they tend to have more mental acuity to pick up rules of the game and teamwork than their male peers). Sure in wrestling there are weight categories, so it is a fairer fight. But a 112 lb. female body and a 112 lb. male body at age 15 usually look quite different.
However, I certainly do not believe that wrestling should be off-limits to females because it is a “violent, combat” sport– as described by Joel Northtrup. On the contrary, I believe girls capable of impressive performances in any sport, developing physical strength and character skills that will help them compete with men in other arenas later in life. When competitive outlets don’t exist for females though, they need to face males to develop their skills so they aren’t shout out completely, either in the present or in the future.
But as more and more girls hit the wrestling mats, female wrestling tournaments will develop. Even before this Iowa wrestling story broke, this week the Daily News in Brooklyn ran a story on Wingate High School, which has eight female wrestlers. Their coach recruits females, touting the numerous benefits women get by participating in wrestling in high school. Two of these young women won conference titles, beating out male competitors, and they will soon be able to compete against many other female wrestlers at the City’s first all-female tournament.
By the way, no word if Black and Herkelman ever faced off in Iowa. Given that they were the only two females to qualify, perhaps they could have wrestled for the female state wrestling title after their elimination. That would have been a victory earned.