Boys vs Girls: Iowa Teens Wrestling With Sexual Combat Sports Conundrum

Joel Northrup, left, and Cassy Herkelman at the Iowa state wrestling tournament.

The Iowa State High School wrestling tournament hit a bit of a snag when sophomore 112 pounder Joel Northrup refused to wrestle against a girl in the state wrestling tournament. Northrup, 35-4 had been favored to win the whole thing. He will be able to participate in the consolation rounds but can't win the title. In addition to his opponent, freshman Cassy Herkelman, another female frosh, Meghan Black, was also in the 112lb mix but she has already lost via pinfall.

Northrup issued the following statement:

"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," wrote Northrup. "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."

SBN's Luke Thomas addressed the issues raised by the idea of inter-sex competition in combat sports:

All I'm pointing out is that in sparring, women compete against men in virtually all of the combat sports disciplines. But in sport jiu-jitsu, amateur wrestling at collegiate level and above, MMA, tae kwon do and judo, the sexes do no compete against one other. Part of this may be discriminatory holdover attitudes. Part of it is concerns for safety. Part of it participatory rates among women naturally preclude the possibility.

But if we are going to permit this, is using the "smell test" really robust enough and reliable enough of an decision engine to answer the question? It's deeply unsatisfying for me. While the female wrestler in question here is probably having to wade through more attention than she bargained for, her participation in the tournament demands the question about mixing sexes in combat sports get further consideration.

Tom Scocca of Slate takes a straight up hater's perspective on the home schooled Northrup and his family's religious beliefs:

One easy way to have avoided the situation would have been for the Northrups to really stand by their beliefs and let high school sports be played by people who go to high school. Out of all the students who attend Linn-Mar, there might be a 112-pounder who would be willing to go to states and wrestle a girl, rather than sticking the team with a default loss.

But entitlement means never having to sacrifice anything. The Northrups were too good or too godly for high school, but they weren't too good for high school sports, until high school sports turned out to include gender equality, at which point they wanted to drop out again. Once the high school athletic system gave him a suitably male consolation-round opponent, Joel Northrup went back to being a participant.

It's like the ultra-Orthodox Jewish students who sued Yale in the '90s because they wanted to go the university but be segregated from the opposite sex. Either turn your back on the sinful world and its rights for women, or don't. Society isn't an a la carte menu, and the whole human race is not there to be your waiter. If you want to be a wrestler, wrestle your draw.

The New York Times had an interesting in-depth look at girls' wrestling a couple of years back:

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.

Now that women's wrestling is an Olympic sport, and, on some campuses, a college sport, girls' wrestling is poised to take off. There is a Catch-22: Without many girls, there can't be girls' teams, and without girls' teams, wrestling can't attract all that many girls. The legal status of coed wrestling is not entirely clear, but in a few scattered cases, courts have ruled that if there is no girls' team for them, they should be able to join boys' teams.
"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."

It's funny how quickly things change. I'm old enough to remember when Andy Kaufman would challenge women to wrestle as part of his stand-up comedy act in the early 1980s. In 2011 this is no joke. 

I come down on the side of Northrup on this one. I have objection whatsoever to girls participating in high school wrestling, against other girls. But it's putting teen age boys in a no-win situation to force them to engage in a combat sport against females. 

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