The Growth of Women's Collegiate Wrestling

The Growth of Women's Collegiate Wrestling

Women’s wrestling has become one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. In 1994, there were only 800 female wrestlers competing on a high school level, while today, there are well over 16,000 competing in high schools across the country. In 2004, women’s wrestling finally become an Olympic sport, which opened a whole new door for female wrestlers. However, 16,000 still does not come close to the number of boys currently wrestling.


As of 2018, there was a recorded 245,564 boys competing in high school wrestling nationwide. This means that most girls do not have their own programs and instead have to compete against boys. And when it comes time for college, many girls have to compromise their academic dreams to attend one of the few colleges offering wrestling scholarships to women. However, with the demand for women’s wrestling on the rise, many schools and organizations are setting out to change the world of wrestling and make it full of opportunities for both genders. 


Certain Colleges Offer Female Wrestling Programs


Although there are around 400 colleges that currently offer wrestling for men, the number of women’s wrestling programs continues to rise. Currently, there are 38 colleges in 12 different states that belong to the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) who have officially added female wrestling to their list of athletic programs. One school that has recently added the sport is the University of Wisconsin. Director of Athletics Brad Duckworth said the sport’s little opportunity and high demand for females was the biggest reason behind the decision. With over 16,000 girls wrestling in high school, more colleges need to be ready to take them to the next level.  


Duckworth and head coach John Johnson both agree that gender will not change much when it comes to training. Due to different rules for the women’s division, they will have to change the way they teach technique, but they say they plan on keeping the fundamentals the same. Johnson says that what matters most is the sense of family they have created with their team. Everyone is always there for each other, and they come in each day ready to work hard. They plan on welcoming women into their gym and making them apart of the family too. 


Women’s Wrestling Bids to Become NCAA Sport


While more and more universities are starting women’s wrestling teams, girls are still having to choose schools that are small or far from home to continue their wrestling careers. In some instances, women are left to choose between their academic and athletic goals when choosing a university. Additionally, the tools needed to succeed in the sport and in college that are offered to men are often not extended to women; most importantly, an NCAA champion title. One organization working to change that, Wrestle like a Girl, is an initiative created to promote wrestling to women and girls. It has recently submitted a bid to make women’s wrestling NCAA’s next emerging sport.


Becoming an official NCAA sport would open a lot of doors for women wrestling. The initiative was created in 1994 as a way to help schools provide more academic opportunities to women through sport-sponsorship programs. Once recognized as an emerging sport, the sport has ten years to reach NCAA Championship Status. This means the sport must have a minimum of 40 varsity NCAA programs across the country. The status comes with a number of benefits that would help women thrive academically and athletically. These include health insurance, scholarship opportunities, and potential grants and internships. Additionally, NCAA Emerging Sport status would encourage even more schools to include women’s wrestling, which would give girls more options as to where they would like to attend school.


Women’s wrestling would be a great candidate for the NCAA emerging sport program, as the sport already has higher participation numbers than some current emerging sports including rugby, beach volleyball, and equestrian. Numerous colleges across the country, like the University of Iowa and Waldorf University, have been pushing the NCAA to accept the bid. The future of women’s wrestling looks bright, and as the sport continues to grow, more and more schools should use it as an opportunity to enhance their programs.


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