×

Time has come for Iowa to give girls wrestling serious consideration

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Alexis Ross of Fort Dodge competes in the Don Miller Invitational earlier this month.

Fort Dodge head coach Bobby Thompson doesn’t mince words when discussing the future of high school girls wrestling in our state.

“It’s going to happen,” Thompson said. “Hopefully soon. It’s long overdue.”

When Thompson’s defending state champion Dodgers hosted the annual Don Miller Invitational earlier this month, the event schedule came with a new wrinkle: a non-sanctioned, open division for female competitors. Over 20 student-athletes participated from five different schools, including Fort Dodge’s Alexis Ross and St. Edmond’s Elly Berry.

Some would rightfully argue Iowa is somewhat behind the times in expanding the horizons of its most cherished sport. After all, girls wrestling is already being offered to students in over a dozen states this calendar year.

“We have guys like Dan Gable and Mark Ironside promoting the idea and pushing it consistently — true legends in our sport,” Thompson said. “They see it and how much sense it makes. But it’s time to stop talking and start doing something about it.

“Missouri sanctioned it recently. So did New Jersey. Texas has offered it for a while. There are (college) scholarship opportunities out there for females, and even spots on the world team. We talk about ways to make our sport grow: this is a perfect opportunity.”

Girls have been allowed to wrestle in Iowa for quite some time, but Thompson said, “that’s not enough.” He added that it can “almost be counterproductive” to ask girls to compete directly against boys, and vice versa.

“It’s not fair to either (the females or the males),” Thompson said. “No other sport (is co-ed) like that — especially one as physical as wrestling. We need to be logical about it and offer separate competition. I think if you did that, you’d see the number (of females participating) really take off.”

Ross, an eighth-grader at Fort Dodge Middle School, is already a decorated performer on the national stage. She’s captured championships at renowned tournaments all across the country.

Her future as a Dodger wrestler isn’t in doubt, according to her father. But Andre Ross would like to see some changes come down the pike before Alexis exhausts her high school eligibility.

“Alexis will wrestle in high school, (even if) if it’s still just in the boys division. But we would hope to see a girls state by her junior or senior year,” Andre said. “Colleges have now started recruiting and giving full scholarships for girls wrestling, so naturally, high schools are going to be getting on board.

“I feel like from when Alexis started (at the age of 4), it’s come a long way. There were very few girl wrestlers back then, and girls tournaments were just unheard of. In the last few years, they’ve (added a girls-only bracket) in Tulsa, Reno, at Winter Nationals, the USA, Super 32, AAU, and several others.”

Andre added that Alexis is also on a traveling dual squad that recently won an event in Colorado Springs.

“Alexis is incredibly talented, but like almost all of the other (female student-athletes), she doesn’t really want to have to wrestle boys when she gets (to FDSH). And I don’t blame her,” Thompson said. “She has a lot of potential, and she’ll have a lot of opportunities in front of her. I’d hate to see that compromised because we can’t get on the same page in Iowa about the future of girls wrestling.

“The interest is there, and the motivation is there. Of course there will be growing pains and challenges; we experienced that at the (Miller Invitational). It doesn’t become a perfect system overnight. But the ball needs to get rolling as soon as possible. I know other coaches and schools feel the same way we do.”

It’s time for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to seriously consider market demands in an ever-changing and evolving environment. Coaches from successful programs across the state are touting the rapid growth of girls wrestling. The sport’s Hall of Fame icons are doing the same.

There is still time for Iowa to be proactive instead of reactive. Ideas have momentum, and the right people are saying the right things. The next step is to bridge the gap between speaking in hypotheticals and creating a new reality.

The IGHSAU has penchant for finding ways to reinvent itself and prosper accordingly. Advancing girls wrestling as an official, individual entity could very well be its latest way of doing so.

SENSELESS TRAGEDY: Sports journalists tend to build a rapport with the families of athletes they cover.

Personal relationships have always been a natural byproduct of how we track teams and report on the ins and outs of their respective seasons. Social media has only helped to enhance this connection.

From day one, Heidi Beisch and her family were incredibly supportive of the way we covered her son, Kyle, and the Fort Dodge boys basketball team from 2013-16. Kyle developed into one of the most prolific shooters and scorers in school history, and we heard from those closest to him every step of the way. They were always very gracious and appreciative of our work.

When Heidi died suddenly in a car accident on Thursday, word quickly spread — natural, given the number of lives Heidi touched. The reactions fit her personality well; people were heartbroken, because Heidi spent years putting her heart into everything she did for her kids, Kyle and Morgan; her work as a nurse at UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge; and her community.

Dodger boys basketball coach Tom Daniel said it best: “high school athletic programs aren’t built on players and coaches alone. Parents play an integral part, and the impact Heidi had ranks near the top.”

In the days to come, almost everyone will share a story that brings Heidi’s love of life, to life. There is no better way to both remember and honor her in the face of such incomprehensible news.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports