PIERRE, S.D. (BVM) — It was early this past spring that the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) discussed adding a girls wrestling division in their annual board of directors meeting.
“Once I saw that girls wrestling was officially being discussed, I thought it had a decent chance of passing,” Brandon Valley High School wrestling coach Derek Outland said.
He was correct. On June 11, the SDHSAA officially announced it would have sanctioned girls wrestling start during the 2020-21 season. The division will consist of four weight classes with the top eight from each weight class moving on to the postseason.
South Dakota became the 25th state to offer girls high school wrestling and since the announcement, another two states have joined the growing trend.
“Over the past couple of years, girls wrestling has seen rapid growth around the country and numerous states have begun the process of recognizing it,” Outland said.
In their annual participant survey, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) found that between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons there was a 27.5% increase in participants nationwide, from 16,562 to 21,124. There was also a 22.9% increase in schools that offer girls wrestling, from 2,351 to 2,890.
That was the 30th year in a row that the sport has seen growth, and although the numbers are not out yet for the 2019-20 season, it’s safe to expect the growth to continue.
“I think there’s generally been acceptance to the idea and excitement from some of the youth wrestlers and parents who now see a way for girls to continue competing at higher levels,” Outland said. “Another good point to consider is the growth of women’s wrestling at the college level. We are seeing women’s programs spring up around the country, so there are increasing opportunities for girls to continue competing at the next level as they get a college education as well.”
The growth at both the youth and collegiate levels has made it so that girls need high school wrestling to help them further their careers. The demand is there and schools are being supportive of the movement.
“I think it’s a positive thing to open up more opportunities for girls to compete in the sport who want to,” Outland said. “I think eventually creating a situation where girls can compete against other girls in the sport at the high school level will fuel growth. At the youth level you see girls compete in larger numbers than at the high school level. This may start to increase those numbers over time.”
Outland has had some girl wrestlers on his team over the past few years and expects some girls to come out this year to form a team. However, like with many first-time seasons, he believes it will take time for the sport to reach its full potential.
“I think this will be a situation where we have to walk before we can run,” Outland said. “I think across the state we will see a small increase in numbers the first year, but over time it will continue to grow.”