POCATELLO — Don’t attempt to get in the way of scholastic girls wrestlers.
They’re surging in numbers and crave a level of respect their male brethren already have.
Post Falls High School senior Brelane Huber just craved the opportunity to wrestle at all. At 9 years old, she saw her older brother enjoying himself and wanted in and — after incessant pleading to her parents — she joined the fray.
“It took a little convincing,” said Huber, a 122-pound wrestler. “I just nagged them every single day, just telling them I want to wrestle. Eventually, they started letting me do practices and then the coach convinced them to let me go to one of the tournaments.”
Her trek to wrestling was similar to other Idaho girls at the USA Turf War Duals and Western States Championships this week at Holt Arena. They were daughters of wrestling coaches and sisters to brothers who wrestled.
“It’s in our lives so much that we want to try it,” Borah High junior Kayli Acosta said. ”And then once we get into it, we just fall in love with it.”
After breaking into a male-centric sport, there is an unbroken barrier still left to burst through — making high school girls wrestling a sport sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association, like boys wrestling has been since 1958.
Women’s wrestling has been an Olympic sport since 2004. The number of girls wrestling in high school has increased from 804 in 1994 to 16,562 in 2018, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
IHSAA executive director Ty Jones said his association is looking at Idaho High School women’s wrestling “pretty close.” He said the participation numbers, based on weight certifications, doubled from the 2017-18 to 2018-19 seasons and board members will continue to look at it as a potential new Idaho sport.
“We’re excited to see the growth that it’s had,” Jones said. “We’ll take a pretty close look each year we get our certification numbers.”
Coeur D’Alene freshman Alyssa Randles said participation would increase in Idaho if girls knew they wouldn’t have to grapple boys.
“It really frustrates me, knowing that I’m going to be in high school and that I’m going to have to wrestle boys. It’s just not a fair opportunity, but we’re getting there,” Randles said. “I practice with boys and I’ve always wrestled with boys. But once you get to a certain weight class, it’s just not a fair opportunity anymore.”
Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Texas are among those in the western United States that have girls wrestling state championships sanctioned.
For now, Idaho girls wrestlers have to join boys teams and mostly compete against boys if they want to make a run for glory at the state tournament.
Idaho coaches are trying to make strides in the meantime, creating all-girls tournaments. The first female high school wrestling tournaments sanctioned by IHSAA were held in February, including one run by Pocatello High School.
“There were a lot of girls that were wrestling throughout Idaho that didn’t necessarily have the opportunity at districts,” said JB Plato, Pocatello varsity head coach and this week’s Idaho Women’s National Dual Team assistant. “So that tournament kind of gave them their end-of-the-year, all-girls championship tournament. So I wanted to provide that and we’re going to use that for the model for the future.”
Another sign of optimism for women’s wrestling in the state is that there was a middle school girls team representing Idaho at the Turf War Duals for the first time. The squad finished second in the team standings in freestyle and Greco-Roman.
“For the first time ever having a girls middle school team, they did phenomenal,” Plato said.
Plato is part of a committee seeking sanctioning by the IHSAA for the women’s wrestling level. He said the committee will meet the association’s members this summer to discuss the issue.
Plato also plans to start a Pocatello High girls wrestling squad. There were 14 girls who came to the first team meeting. Having a girls squad will not make things much different than past seasons, as the girls will still have to compete against boys if they want to be in the hunt for a state bid.
But the girls will have a team that’s theirs. That may mean more will participate, so the girls will have more practice partners of their gender, plus face a few schools that have their own girls teams.
“That’s going to be really nice when I am a freshman and I am to be going and wrestling girls,” Irving Middle School student Chloe Felde said. “It’s different from a 130-pound girl and a 130-pound guy.”
It’s not that the girls haven’t enjoyed themselves, though, in their current circumstance. Wrestling’s male-dominated, but not male-only, and the girls have rode the upward the trajectory women’s wrestling has taken and experienced the joys of the sport at the same time.
That’s why they crave more.
“Wrestling’s an outlet for me to completely get lost in myself and not have to worry about anything else,” Sandpoint sophomore K.J. Johansen said. “Like if I’m doing bad in class, I’ll just hit the mat and be able to roll around and completely forget about it. It’s a stress reliever and it’s the sport I really love most.”