COVER: Bottom line Jeff Kessinger Sports

The statement caught me off-guard, as did the certainty with which it was said.

“There’s no way I’d let my daughter wrestle. I know what happens on the mat.”

I was just a cub reporter, cutting my teeth on the Taney County sports scene, and knew nothing about wrestling. The season was just a few weeks away, so I decided to visit a practice and pick the local coach’s brain a bit. Basically, I wanted to make sure I didn’t sound like a complete idiot when I started writing stories about the sport. I would’ve been happy with about 75 percent idiot.

Somehow the conversation steered toward our families. Both of us had daughters and I was curious if he’d ever allow his to wrestle for him. I expected a “Yes,” followed by some heartwarming discussion of how much he would love to add the coach-athlete dynamic to their relationships. That was not what I got.

“There’s no way I’d let my daughter wrestle. I know what happens on the mat.”

My first thought, as a wrestling newbie, was a very concerned, “What in the world happens on that mat?” My second thought, as an emerging feminist father: “Why not? If they want to wrestle, why shouldn’t they be allowed to at least try — even if it is against boys?”

That won’t be much of a concern anymore in Missouri, not after the Missouri State High School Activities Association approved Proposal 18 May 7 by a 202-41 vote. What does Proposal 18 do? It “(a)mends By-Laws 5.1, 3.29.6, and to separate the currently co-educational sport of wrestling into sex-separated wrestling for both boys and girls.” It will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

There hasn’t been information released on the implementation of the amended by-laws, so it’s unclear how many teams will be competing next year, but — no matter how quickly or slowly it grows — there’s no question it’s a historic event. Missouri is just the ninth state to approve separate wrestling competition for male and female athletes.

Girls wrestling is emerging in the Show-Me State. Missouri Wrestling USA held its state freestyle tournament May 6 in Sedalia and it included a competition for girls. There was a high school division in the tournament, which included clubs from across Missouri — including Lebanon Rolla, Springfield and Waynesville.

Also included in that tournament was Tri-Lakes Wrestling Club, which boasts members from across southwest Missouri, including Nixa and Ozark. Nixa’s own Brenya Crahan was the club’s lone representative and she defeated Team MO’s Delaynie Morgan to win the Kids II 81-89 division.

The tournament’s brackets were not exactly overflowing with wrestlers. A couple of championships were awarded by default, others by two wrestlers competing in a best-of-three competition. But that should be neither surprising nor discouraging. Girls wrestling is very new in Missouri, so it will take some time to grow.

It has been rare, but not unheard of, for girls to wrestle on their high school teams in last 15 years or so. I can’t help but wonder how many young women haven’t had the opportunity to pursue the sport because of parents or coaches who didn’t want them on the mat, wrestling against boys. I wonder, too, how many more girls will be able to give it a shot now that one of the biggest barriers to entry has been removed.

Now that girls will have the opportunity to wrestle each other, participation numbers should begin to grow, however slowly. More opportunities for athletes is always a good thing, and MSHSAA and its members should be commended for giving more young women a chance to wrestle.

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