• December 21, 2014

Boys against girls? A better option exists

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Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2011 6:07 am

This time last week, an Iowa high school sophomore made an incredibly difficult decision that will likely follow him for the rest of his prep career, if not beyond.

Joel Northrup chose not to wrestle a girl.

Citing the inherent violence associated with the sport, as well as his own “conscience and faith,” the 16-year-old home-schooled wrestler with a 35-4 record defaulted rather than face pony-tailed Cassey Herkelman in the opening round of the Iowa state wrestling championship last Thursday.  If Northrup lived in Texas rather than the wrestling mecca that is the Hawkeye State, he wouldn’t have faced such a quandary. Texas is among only five states — along with California, Hawaii, Tennessee and Washington — that have female high school wrestling. Yes, at least in regard to female sports, Texas can be considered among the forward progressives.

Killeen — with its tougher-than-nails military children who are forced to grow up quicker than most — has shown what female wrestlers can accomplish when given the opportunity. With the sport taking off in recent years, both Ellison and Shoemaker routinely field region-winning programs.

In fact, for the second consecutive year, the Killeen area is sending multiple girls (six) and just one boy to the state wrestling meet this weekend at the Delco Center in Austin.But Northrup didn’t have such a luxury.

Through much soul-searching, he chose what he felt was in his best interest — as well as Herkelman’s — and he didn’t wrestle her.

Northrup’s highly controversial decision immediately drew the gamut of reactions from the masses, resulting in everything from unflinching support to vitriol-filled disdain.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly essentially called the state-ranked Northrup a coward and a fool for throwing away his legitimate chance to win a state championship rather than wrestle a girl.

As a former wrestler myself — from my freshman year of high school to my third year of college — I completely disagree with Reilly. He missed the real point — girls should not have to face boys in the first place.

It does no good for either gender. Sure, if the female ends up winning a la tennis great Billy Jean King, it’s an incredible accomplishment.

Why? Because, in actuality, the sexes aren’t created equal. Physically we are totally different creatures.

All other things being equal — ability, determination, drive, knowledge of the sport, or sheer heart — it comes down to the simple fact that males are generally stronger and built for more physical stress than females.

Which makes pitting a boy against a girl in a sporting event, especially wrestling, the wrong decision.There are exceptions to the rule. Women can outdo their male counterparts on occasion. I’ll take Baylor phenom Brittney Griner against many of today’s men’s college basketball players.

But pitting the 6-foot-8 Griner — women’s basketball’s most elite prospect in ages — against her male equivalent — let’s say for argument’s sake LeBron James — would clearly be an unfair situation for both. Unlike basketball, though, wrestling is the ultimate individual sport. Make no mistake, at its purest form, wrestling is about one thing — domination.

The world’s longest-running sport has maintained its popularity because of its simple format — going one-on-one to decide who’s better.I thankfully never had to make a decision similar to Northrup’s.

Admittedly, I was never what could be considered a great wrestler. Good, above average, maybe. But because I was never a technician or a physical beast, I had to rely on other parts of my game — including inflicting pain on my opponents to get them to do what I wanted. Whether it was cranking an arm-bar just a tad past what’s comfortable to turn my opponent to his back or grinding the inside of my forearm against his cheekbone during a crossface, I did what I had to do to beat wrestlers who may have been faster or stronger than me.

At its core, wrestling a girl is difficult because it goes against what we are taught about how to treat the opposite gender. It’s wrong to hit a girl. It’s wrong to push around a girl. It seems this is what Northrup was taught. It’s what I was taught.

It’s just another reason Texas is doing the right thing by separating boys and girls wrestling. More states, especially Iowa, need to follow Texas’ lead.

That way these types of difficult decisions wouldn’t be necessary and “conscience and faith” wouldn’t determine who anyone wrestles anymore.

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