The way things used to be for high school girls wrestlers, if they joined a wrestling team, was that there might be one or two of them practicing with the boys team and often wrestling against other boys during the season.
Since Utah sanctioned girls wrestling as a high school sport, which went into effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year, things have changed.
“I can tell you that it has made a tremendous impact with the amount of girls that have joined, and going to the high school tournaments and seeing the amount of girls has been awesome,” Ogden High girls wrestling head coach Maria Gomez said.
Ogden is hosting an all-girls tournament Saturday, which is believed to be the first time the school has ever hosted an all-girls wrestling tournament.
Throughout the state, there are plenty of girls wrestling tournaments, whether they’re all-girls tournaments or co-ed (separate boys and girls tournaments happening in the same place). That’s simply because there’s demand to fill those tournament spots.
“Because of COVID, we had to stop some teams coming to our all-girls tournament because of the amount of girls coming,” Gomez said.
Before the sport was officially sanctioned, it was already growing quickly at the high school and club level.
If anecdotes about the 2020-21 school year are any indication, Utah may have at least a few hundred girls wrestlers after reporting 124 in the 2018-19 school year.
Ogden had less than a handful last year and now there are 10-12 girls wrestlers on the team. Fremont has 21 girls wrestling this year, up from 14 last year, according to coach Cody Storey.
Syracuse had two girls complete the 2019-20 season, head coach Troy Brown said. Now, the Titans have 12-14 consistently.
“We have had an absolute blast creating a girls team. They are so eager to learn the sport, they are a sisterhood. It’s fun watching them at tournaments. They follow each girl from mat to mat and cheer each other on,” Brown said.
No longer are the girls wrestlers practicing and wrestling exclusively against boys. They have their own schedules, their own state tournament and their own weight classes.
A couple years ago, the popular exhibition All-Star Duals in Utah County started staging all-girls matches, featuring three matches. This year, the All-Star Duals lineup has 33 girls listed.
Gomez echoed similar sentiments, saying her team is excited and feels validated by having its own program with its own uniforms, coaches, budget and things like that.
State and nationwide high school sports participation data wasn’t published for 2019-20 because of COVID-19 and that will likely be the case for 2020-21 as well, but girls wrestling is one of the fastest-growing high school sports in the country and has been for years.
It nearly doubled in national participation between the 2010-11 school year (7,351 wrestlers) and the 2016-17 school year (14,587), according to the NFHS.
Utah is the 18th state to sanction the sport. Three years ago, that number was six.
Another state, Montana, had its first all-girls dual match Wednesday, where Glacier High School coach Ross Dankers told TrackWrestling.com he thought it was a huge step forward for the sport.