According to my internet search, just 4.1% of boys who wrestle in high school continue to compete in any level of college and for girl wrestlers the percentage is 2.9. For all high school athletes, the percentage who continue into college competition at any level is just over 7%. Thus, for the youngster who plays a high school varsity sport for whatever reason, his or her last competition will end with high school graduation. For some of them, this will be of no consequence because they never aspired for college competition, and for others it will be a hard check by the reality of college athletics. Yet, for most teenagers I taught or coached in several high schools, sports were a way to have fun, participate, and/or support their school. And most of them worked to improve and were serious about becoming better competitors. This is true for both sexes.
Some girls choose to wrestle, and I have coached girls at the middle school level and coached against girls on the high school level. Because the number of female wrestlers is small, there is normally no separate division for girls, so they compete against boys. While several state athletic associations have added divisions for girls only, most of the matches they wrestle are against boys. And, I saw three girl wrestlers who qualified for the 2019 western 4A NC state regional tournament held in Mooresville. Girls can, and girls do, wrestle and often well. In Virginia’s 2A division where I coached, my 126 pounder lost three times to a girl (team captain her senior year) from George Mason High School. So, it is no surprise that in one division of the Colorado state tournament, two girls qualified at 106 pounds.
On the first day of the tournament, Brendan Johnson, a 106 pounder for The Classical Academy, forfeited to Jasylnn Gallegos. On the second day in his consolation round, Johnson forfeited to Angel Rios, whom he forfeited to three times during the regular season. Rios finished 4th and Gallegos 5th in the tournament. Johnson did not place, saying that “Wrestling is something we do, it’s not who we are, and there are more important things to me than my wrestling. And I’m willing to have those priorities.” In his junior year at the state tournament, Johnson forfeited to a girl and said after he forfeited to Rios and Gallegos this year, “I think it’s possible to forfeit while still respecting them as athletes and competitors. I really don’t want to disrespect the hard work these ladies have put in. They’ve done a lot of that too. Some people think by forfeiting I’m disrespecting them. That’s not my intention at all.” Johnson followed this up with, “And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either.” Does Johnson deserve applause for his willingness to stand behind his conviction, or are his good intentions misplaced?
Like other sports, wrestling has regulations, rules, and a points system. In high school there are fourteen weight classes and wrestlers in the same class compete. At times, a team may not have a wrestler in a weight class and must forfeit, which is point costly. Sometimes a coach will use a forfeit(s) to rest his wrestlers. However, the expectation of coaches and wrestlers is that if a team weighs-in a wrestler, he or she is prepared to wrestle any competitor in the same class. That expectation makes it tough for a boy who wrestles a girl because if he wins he “only beat a girl”, and if he loses, like my 126 pounder did, he may be embarrassed.
But as a coach, I never forfeited to a girl because of her sex. My teams and I respected any student who had done the hard work of being prepared to walk out on a mat to face an opponent. The female team captain from George Mason High School was an accomplished technician who perfected certain moves to compensate for her lack of physical strength. There was no shame in losing to her.
Young Johnson could not be on any of my wrestling teams if he would not wrestle a female opponent . For her time on the mat, she is a wrestler who has earned, by her being there, the respect due any wrestler. Her sex is not an issue, but her ability to beat you might be. I hope Rios is “a lady” at the necessary times, but on the mat she is a wrestler. Give her that respect.