In 2021, Florida joined a growing list of states to sanction girl’s wrestling.
In 1998, Hawaii became the first state to officially sanction a high school state championship tournament for girl’s wrestling and Texas followed suit in 1999. Then came Washington in 2007, California in 2011 and the dominoes began to fall across the nation.
In 2021, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin will all sanction a girl’s wrestling state championship, bringing the total count to 26 states as female participation in the sport grows alongside the number of states that are recognizing it. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, girl’s wrestling showed the biggest jump in participation among all high school sports during the 2018-2019 school year with 21,124 girls participating, an increase of 4,562 athletes – or 27.5 percent – from the year before. In addition, the number of schools that offered girl’s wrestling that year also increased by 2,890, an increase of 22.9 percent from the year before. At the college level, Iowa recently became the first Power 5 Division I college program to add a women’s wrestling program.
But right here in Plant City, you won’t have to look any further than the influx of new wrestlers on Strawberry Crest’s team to see the growing amount of female participation, all with their own individual introductions to the sport.
Sophomore Arden Swindle was introduced to the sport by her older brother and has been wrestling for four years with Top Gun Wrestling Academy, now in her second year at the high school level with Crest. Swindle says that she doesn’t look at wrestling against men as a disadvantage, she zones that aspect out, but has certainly been long waiting for women wrestlers to have their own space in the sport.
“It’s taken too long,” Swindle said. “We’ve been waiting for it, I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. We’ll now have our own division and that can take you a lot farther.”
For first-year female wrestlers on the team like sophomore Sophia Christian, wrestling is a way to participate in a high school sport after previously training in other combat sports like jiu-jitsu. But for other first-time wrestlers, the sport provides a whole new experience.
“There weren’t a lot of girls so I wanted to try it out and see why no one is joining,” Ariel Goble said about the beginning of her first year on Crest’s team. “[So far] it’s really fun, really rigorous and I’ve enjoyed it.”
The high school regular season will look largely similar to past years as both men and women face off against each other as normal within their own weight classes. But tournaments, including those for district, regional and state championships, will be sanctioned separately. The high school season will begin early next week, with the state championship tournament taking place in January.
“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” Strawberry Crest wrestling coach Blake Olson said. “The biggest thing for this sport right now is going to be the growth of women’s wrestling. It’s going to grow both men’s and women’s wrestling right now, getting more bodies into wrestling, getting more eyes on the sport and getting more people hands on with the sport of wrestling. It’s absolutely huge.”