Sunday, February 18, 2007

Girls wrestling boys

The New York Times has an article today on a trend that isn't really new, but it is growing, and that is high school girls wrestling with the boys.

Nationwide, about 5,000 high school girls wrestled last year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly five times as many as a decade earlier. Those numbers are no doubt low, since many states failed to report girls’ wrestling participation, but whatever the full count, it is dwarfed by the quarter-million boys who wrestle.

I don't doubt that the girls are fully capable of competing with the boys, and I'll pass along a personal anecdote to that effect. I did not wrestle, but I had a little bit of wrestling training and a there were a few people who wanted to wrestle. One day a female friend of mine was feeling full of "girl power" decided that she wanted to wrestle and gave me no choice in the matter. I found her to be stronger than I anticipated and her flexibility was a big advantage (this was all clean and on the up and up for those of you with less than pristine minds). After that experience, I did not doubt that they could compete with boys in that sport, even if many are at a certain strength disadvantage.

The mixed gender part of the wrestling can be very uncomfortable for some guys, though, especially those who grow up in families that emphasize traditional values. From the Times:

Occasionally, boys choose to forfeit rather than wrestle a girl, as happened at a Dobbs Ferry High School exhibition match this season, leaving Sophia Veiras, a sophomore, with no one to fight.

“It’s always a little intimidating for the boys at first,” said Jamie Block, the coach at the school, in Westchester. “They’re raised not to do this to a girl. And the thing about Sophia is, she’s very good. If you don’t really fight, she’ll pummel you. The girls who come out for wrestling now, they go to wrestling camps in the summer. They’re serious.”

A friend of mine was a top wrestler in the state in his weight class. Every year he was a favorite going into the state tournament. He refused to wrestle the girls, period, and would forfeit the occasional match he'd have against one. It wasn't sexism. He and his coach (his father) just chose for him not to wrestle girls because it went against what they believed. Even in a competitive environment, it was not right to do this to a girl. I'll say from my own free-lanced experience, it is very uncomfortable for a boy. Wrestling hurts, and you don't want to do things that hurt girls. In some cases, this does give girls an added mental advantage against the boys. Maybe that just balances out the strength difference, but there is something about it that just doesn't feel kosher. My friend had the luxury of taking a blemish or two on his record each season. Not all of the boys have that luxury and have to do something they'd prefer not to.

I am a proponent of girls playing sports with boys when they are good enough to do so. Growing up playing baseball, we had a girl in our leagues who was better than most of the boys. In fact, one year she hit a double in a tough situation that knocked my team out of a tournament. If she had chosen to try out for the high school baseball team and made because of her ability, I'd have been pleased because it would have made our team better (she went out for softball instead). Wrestling is the one sport where coed competition leaves me very uncomfortable, though. The one on one nature and the pain that comes with it change the dynamics of coed sporting competition.

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