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The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Board of Directors voted unanimously to sanction girls wrestling as the organization’s 11th sport. The vote was made at the IGHSAU’s Jan. 12 board of directors meeting and was announced prior to the start of the championship round of the IWCOA Girls State Wrestling Tournament Saturday in Coralville. The first IGHSAU-sanctioned season will take place during the 2022-23 school year.

“We think there’s a great foundation in place for the success of this sport and we intend to fully support these Iowa Girls as they continue their pursuit of championships,” said IGHSAU Executive Director Jean Berger. “As the sanctioning process unfolded, the Board was able to quickly approve this new opportunity for our girls and schools across the state. The increase in participation, the growth in youth wrestling and the willingness of our schools to commit to the sport all factored into this decision.”

Assistant Sigourney wrestling coach Dillon Maas is glad to see the athletic union, which sanctions girl’s sport in Iowa, has made the announcement to bring the sport into the mainstream with other sports.

“I think it really shows how much the sport has grown in the last few years,” said Maas. “It wasn’t long ago when it was quite rare to see a girl wrestling at a tournament and now, they have enough to have their own state championship. I hope with the sanctioning, the girls at small schools will still get to go to dual meets with the boys.”

The IGHSAU intends to follow the National Federation of State High School Associations wrestling rules and guidelines. The next steps in this process include meeting with an appointed IGHSAU wrestling advisory committee this winter to finalize details for this roll-out year that include format for the season, classification system, weight classes, and postseason/tournament details.

North Mahaska coach Erica Groom had anticipated the announcement.

“I am excited, not gonna lie,” said Groom. “I literally cried when Jean (Berger) announced it. I knew it was coming from the rumors we heard at girl’s state, but it was just an emotional feeling when you actually hear it.

“I am excited for the future of girls wrestling. It is a long time coming and very much deserved. Girls have put up with so much diversity, push back and skepticism with being involved in the sport of wrestling. Girls deserve the same opportunities as the boys do. I can’t wait to see the numbers continue to grow, especially now that it’s sanctioned.”

“The journey to sanctioning girls wrestling as a sport for the IGHSAU has been a labor of love,” said IGHSAU Associate Director and wrestling administrator Erin Kirtley. “I’m honored to have been given the job as a catalyst to get this part of the process accomplished for the girls in our state. While we have closed the book on formal sanctioning, we look forward to opening the next one now as we highlight all the great stories our female wrestlers are continuing to write.

“The IGHSAU has said from the beginning that our intent is to do what is best for the girls who participate. We look forward to giving them the same amazing experiences as the other ten sports under our umbrella, and to leave nothing spared when it comes to building them as student athletes and leaders. We also look forward to supporting the coaches and officials who serve alongside these athletes, and to give their fans a greater appreciation for what these females already do day in and day out.”

To date, 58 schools have committed to sponsoring girls wrestling programs in Iowa. The latest data from Trackwrestling.com shows 1,018 girls participating in high school wrestling, represented by over 185 Iowa schools. Wrestling becomes the 11th sport to be sanctioned by the IGHSAU and the first since bowling was added in 2007. Iowa becomes the 34th state association to sanction girls’ wrestling.

“A lot of the teams we’ve faced, have girls that help fill out their team which makes the duals more fun because there’s more matches,” said Maas. “Either way I think the sport will continue to grow as it gets more recognition each year. The little girls in elementary school will now be seeing high schoolers like our own Reanah Utterback representing their town at the highest level and that makes them want to give wrestling a chance.”

Groom said she has a personal interest in seeing the sport sanctioned.

“This is extra special to me since my daughter Libby was the first girl wrestler at North Mahaska and the first girl to attend the state tournament,” said Groom. “Last year we had four girls participate in the season and attend the state tournament. This year we had two – Jalayna (Shipley) and Libby.

“It will be interesting to see what the rules are as the girl’s union continues to work on the specifics. What we do know is they plan on the girl’s season being two weeks before the boys starts and will end two weeks before the boys does- but we will see how it unfolds.”

Many young women have laid the groundwork for this momentous decision. Schools who have made the commitment to provide the opportunity has shown the IGHSAU the need to sanction the support. The announcement and elation rang throughout Xtream Arena just before the start of the championship session showed how much sanctioning of the sport means.