Girls' wrestling gains popularity as PIAA recognizes it as official sport
EASTON, Pa. - As the COVID-19 pandemic started surging in early 2020, so was a statewide effort to get girls' wrestling recognized by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, known as PIAA. The sport was PIAA-sanctioned last month, starting with the 2023-24 season.
- Girls' wrestling is now a PIAA-sanctioned sport starting this fall
- There are 111 schools with girls' teams
- The popularity of the sport has spiked 80% since last year
Getting the state’s governing body to officially approve girls' wrestling took a three-year campaign by SanctionPA, a nonprofit group aiming to get at least 100 PIAA-member schools to form female wrestling programs. Brooke Zuma, chair of SanctionPA, said there was a clear lack of opportunity for girls to participate.
“When we say 'why girls' wrestling,' 'why now?' And really, it's kind of like 'why not,'” Zumas said. “Really, the question is: why did we shut the door on girls for so long? Wrestling was really one of the last remaining sports without a female component to the male component.”
SanctionPA’s campaign to form more teams demonstrated the sport’s appeal for many athletes. The PIAA said in its May newsletter that interest has grown by 80% since last year.
“Everybody sort of assumed that the interest wasn't there. But once the ball got rolling, they saw like, 'Holy crap, there are a lot more people interested in this and we ever thought would be the case' and then people started getting on board."Parkland Assistant Coach Anthony Shave
Parkland Assistant Coach Anthony Shave said until this recent push for girls' teams, the few girl wrestlers had to practice and compete against boys. The popularity of the sport among female athletes has ballooned across the Lehigh Valley and elsewhere, he said.
“Everybody sort of assumed that the interest wasn't there,” Shave said. “But once the ball got rolling, they saw like, 'Holy crap, there are a lot more people interested in this and we ever thought would be the case,' and then people started getting on board. It just became a snowball effect.”
Easton Area High School junior Aubre Krazer said she saw her brothers wrestle and she wanted to join in. Krazer is a two-time state champion in girls' wrestling who has played the sport for the past several years. She liked the physical ruggedness of the sport, she said.
“The question is: why did we shut the door on girls for so long? Wrestling was really one of the last remaining sports without a female component to the male component.”Brooke Zumas with SanctionPA
“I like how tough it is,” Krazer said. “I like how hard you have to work and how good it feels when you win things. Because you know how much time and effort you put in for things. So it's just really rewarding.”
She said she enjoys the camaraderie of a female cadre.
“I like that we have an all-girls high school team. It’s definitely different because I used to wrestle with boys all the time, from when I started to middle school,” Krazer said. “Then when I got to high school, I had a full girls’ team and it's nice to have other girls because it's more comfortable.”
Easton was the second school district in Pennsylvania to form a girls' team in May 2020. Ryan Pomrinca, girls wrestling junior varsity head coach for the Easton Area School District, said being PIAA sanctioned is a big deal for the teams because they’ll be treated with more parity with the boys’ teams.
“[Boys’ teams] have an official season, they have official matches, match points, everything's recorded in the system," he said.
Pomrinca also said the guys compete in PIAA Wrestling Championships Tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey and now so will the girls.
“So not just for the Easton girls' team, for all the teams in the state of PA, it just gives the girls the realistic, real feel of what a wrestling season really is,” he said.
JP McCaskey High School in Lancaster was the first to create a girls wrestling team in March 2020. The PIAA said there are 111 schools with teams, including Freedom and Liberty high schools in Bethlehem, Bethlehem Catholic, Executive Education Academy Charter School in Allentown and Parkland School District.
Ruby Fairchild, soon to be an eighth-grader at Easton Area School District, will be a newbie wrestler for the first official season. She said she wanted to wrestle because she had watched her older brother Oliver, who just graduated high school, wrestle for years.
“It's probably one of my favorite things to do to watch him wrestle and the whole team,” Fairchild said. “So I guess I just thought I like watching it, might as well just try it.”
Fairchild will have to wait to be on a girls’ team until she reaches high school, so for now, she’ll participate on the middle school boys’ team.