RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Last week’s decision by the WIAA Board of Control to implement an individual state wrestling tournament for girls beginning in 2022 was a good start, according to River Falls wrestling coach Kevin Black, but it could have gone further.
“My dad always has this phrase that 'a little bit of something is better than nothing at all,'” Black said. “That’s true in a lot of cases, but not always. My fear is that they did give a little bit of something, and now it’s going to block the full addition of a women’s program.”
Black, a four-time state champion at River Falls from 1995-98 and head coach of the Wildcats since 2013, has been a proponent of women’s wrestling, both nationally and internationally, for over a decade. He was a U.S. World Team coach in 2007, 2009, and 2011, and has been a part of the U.S. Olympic Development Program since 2007. He was named USA Wrestling Women's Coach of the Year in 2009 and 2011 and was mat-side coaching Helen Maroulis to the first U.S. Olympic Gold Medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Black praised last week’s decision to add a girls' division to the state tournament series in wrestling beginning in 2022, but said it did nothing to change the fact girls will still have to compete against boys during the regular season. He said he’d like to see separate programs and schedules for girls' wrestling, similar to what’s happened in girls' and women’s hockey across the country.
“We don’t tell people like Karyn Bye to be on the boys’ team, then at the end of the year you get to play in a girls’ tournament,” he said. “The way that it was implemented and the decision that they chose I really believe is less than best, but I think we’ll make the best of it.”
Local wrestling stars
There have been a number of successful female wrestlers emerge from Western Wisconsin in the past few years. River Falls senior Josie Bartishofski became the first female ever to win a WIAA Division 1 regional championship in 2019 while teammate Macey Kilty went on to become a five-time world medalist with USA Wrestling.
Last year, Hudson senior Marta Jasperson was named Wisconsin’sTricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner. The award is given to the top female wrestler in each state and is named after the four-time World Champion who was the first woman to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
Bartishofski, Kilty and Jasperson all wrestled on their respective boys’ teams in high school. Black said participation among girls at the youth level has been growing over the years, but in order to keep more girls involved in the sport through high school there needs to be an opportunity for them to compete on their own team.
“The WIAA took a step back and said, well we have to get numbers first,” he said. “But it’s a classic, if you build it they will come. It’s been proven all over the country that if you provide the opportunities for the girls they will show up, but if we’re waiting for the numbers of girls before we provide opportunities they’re not going to show up.”
Currently, 16 other states offer girls wrestling state championships and 35 states offer girls wrestling as a sport. For girls wrestling to be added as its own sport in Wisconsin, it would have to meet the WIAA bylaw of five percent participation by member schools, or somewhere around 25 schools.
Black said that’s something he would like to see in Wisconsin down the road.
“I think that’s the long-term goal for people in the women’s wrestling community, I don’t know if that’s the long term goal of the WIAA,” he said. “My feeling is this was an easy thing to say yes to. It was the lowest common denominator and it was an easy thing to implement.”
That being said, he said last week’s decision was long overdue.
“We’ve been working a long time as a wrestling community here in Wisconsin to try and move the needle to try to give these girls the opportunity they deserve,” he said. “So I’m grateful that there’s going to be a WIAA state tournament and the recognition for girls.”
Several details still need to be figured out, including the weight class structure. But girls individual state wrestling champions will be crowned in Wisconsin for the first time in 2022.