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Movement to sanction girls wrestling in Iowa gains steam

The growth in the sport of girls wrestling in the state of Iowa has been massive in the past few years.

There’s no denying that.

The number of girls wrestling in the state of Iowa five years ago sat at just 67. Today, there are close to 700. In the same vein, 87 girls wrestled at the first state championships in 2019. Over 450 girls from over 100 schools wrestled at the same event in January.

Girls State Wrestling Final 14

Charles City's Lilly Luft's arms are raised after defeating Waverly-Shell Rock's Avery Meier during the IWCOA Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Xtream Arena in Coralville in January. Three months after learning freestyle wrestling, Luft finished fifth at 132 pounds to claim her first All-American honor.

But, to the bewilderment of many coaches, fans and athletes, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) has not sanctioned the sport.

“It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a girls wrestling sport when California, they have it. Illinois has it. Texas has it. A large number of states have sanctioned the high school female wrestling sport,” Charles City coach Robert Pittman said. “For the home of Dan Gable, where Cael Sanderson wrestled, where the Brands brothers wrestled, the number of championships – why not have it?”

Since the state wrestling tournament in January, the movement pushing for the IGHSAU to sanction the sport has picked up steam.

Sen. Chris Cournoeyer (R-LeClaire) drafted a bill and introduced it on Feb. 23 urging the union to finally sanction the sport. On Twitter, the hashtag #SanctionIA has been tweeted hundreds of times.

The hashtag is an effort to garner more attention for the sport. The goal for #SanctionIA, according to, is to have 50-100 schools in the state formally support girls wrestling by sending in letters of support to the IGHSAU.

IGHSAU Executive Director Jean Berger says 15 percent of member schools, which is around 50, must have letters of commitment before the union sanctions the sport. As of Monday, 34 schools in the state have drafted a letter in support stating that it would offer the sport there if the state sanctioned girls wrestling.

“Change is hard. I think there’s a little bit of it where people have to wrap their heads around girls wrestling,” Pittman said. “There’s still a lot of people that are like ‘girls shouldn’t be wrestling guys.’ And ‘guys shouldn’t be wrestling girls.’”

Girls State Wrestling Final 8

Charles City's Kiki Connell celebrates with head coach Robert Pittman after defeating Lewis Central's Sophie Barnes during the IWCOA Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Xtream Arena in Coralville in January.

Pittman had two Comet wrestlers at the state tournament compete in the finals in January. Charles City is one of five schools in North Iowa that sent girls to the state tournament. That list includes Charles City, Osage, Clear Lake, West Fork and St. Ansgar.

Charles City is one of the 34 schools that have sent letters to the union in support of sanctioning the sport.

Pittman says that he’s watched all of his girls grow into ‘fierce competitors’ over the past few years. Wrestling is an outlet for the girls to show physicality, something that’s unique to the sport, according to Pittman.

“Any girl that participates in wrestling gains confidence,” Pittman said. “Gains confidence in who they are, gains confidence in their ability to overcome challenges and gains confidence in their own physicality. They realize they don’t have to be timid.”

Many area coaches are hoping more schools come out in support of girls wrestling. They believe the sanctioning of the sport isn’t far off.

Still, many of the girls who helped grow the sport today won’t be in high school when that happens.

Girls State Wrestling Semi 8

Osage's Emma Grimm competes against Waverly-Shell Rock's Avery Meier during the IWCOA Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Xtream Arena in Coralville in January.

“I know a few younger girls, and I cannot wait to come back and watch them grown,” Osage senior Emma Grimm told the Globe in January. “As much as I want that experience for myself, I’m happy that they will at least get that in the future. It makes me proud to say that I helped start that.”

Charles City's Kiki Connell wrestles Dakota Whitman of Independence in Saturday's 120 pound state quarterfinals. Connell won by fall at 5:20 to advance to the semifinals. 

Gunnar Davis covers education and sports. Reach him via email at or by phone 641-421-0598.


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