Iowa high school wrestler defaulted to a girl, but the story is not that simple

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times,” Northrup said via press release. “As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

My high school wrestling coach had a maxim about girls and wrestling: If girls were on the team, the boys weren’t training hard enough. As most of the schools that had girls wrestling on their teams generally had a weak lineup overall, I accepted his philosophy to be broadly true. But that changed after I saw one girl wrestler beat her opponent at a tournament. Not just beat, mind you, but outmaneuver and flat-out pin the guy. The referee slapped the mat and the entire gym went nuts, everyone cheering as the girl got her arm raised in victory and the guy promptly disappeared into the locker room for the remainder of the tournament.

But many people had trouble writing off Northrup’s decision strictly as sexist. Wrestlers train like Navy SEALs to compete in a sport I consider more grueling than any other high school sport (football players don’t have to climb up ropes with weights tied to them or cut weight in order to compete), and both girls clearly had to excel in order to reach the state level; wrestling in Iowa is like Scientology in Clearwater or Jerry Lewis in France: an institution and a way of life.

The fact that both Herkelman and Black became the first girls ever to compete at the Iowa state championships got highlighted in the stories that followed. Given that, I want to dismiss Northup’s decision as sexist, but I find his willingness to stand by his convictions to be admirable.

“The whole thing is a his-and-her heartbreak," sportswriter Gregg Doyle wrote. “Neither kid deserved what happened, or didn't happen, in their match."

Your thoughts?

High school wrestling, long a subject of personal interest that only makes sporadic headlines down here in Florida, got national attention last week after an Iowa wrestler refused to face his first opponent in the state tournament.

The reason? His opponent was a girl.

Joel Northrup, a sophomore with a 35-4 record going into the tournament, defaulted to Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman in the Iowa state wrestling finals Thursday, effectively ending his quest for the state title. Northrup, a home-schooled student who competes for Linn-Mar High School, told the press he could not wrestle Herkelman or Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black, another girl competing in the 112 lbs. division, due to his religious beliefs.

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