By James Kay
While high school programs in Illinois wait to hear if there will be a fall sports season, the wrestling community received the news last week that girls wrestlers will have their own state tournament in the 2021-22 season. Because girls wrestling will have its own state tournament, it will no longer be considered an "emerging sport," making Illinois the 25th state to sanction the sport.
The Northwest Herald first reported that the IHSA held a virtual meeting on June 15 to announce the news.
"It's very exciting, especially for all the girls around the state who we all admire for going out and trying a new sport where girls traditionally haven't wrestled," said Assistant Executive Director Sam Knox. "Just looking at our numbers over the last few years and seeing the number of participants grow very quickly, I think most in the wrestling community knew that getting to a state series for the girls was a matter of time."
In an interview with Wednesday Journal last year, Fred Arkin, who is a co-chair of the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association steering committee and one of the boys and girls wrestling coaches at OPRF, said the state has seen the number of certified girls wrestlers rise from 641 in 2018-19 to 835 (across 250 schools) in 2019-20. With a state tournament on the table for the 2021-22 campaign, those numbers are projected to rise.
Knox confirmed that there aren't more details to release on where the state tournament will eventually occur or what the format will look like when it does happen.
"For right now, we just said that 'we are going to do this,' and then over the next year and a half or so we'll get all the details ironed out," said Knox.
Arkin is excited by the result but wishes the tournament could have been implemented for this upcoming season.
"I'm incredibly excited, but it's a little bittersweet," said Arkin. "I say that because the girls that have been competing for a couple years who were going to be seniors are not going to have the opportunity to have their own tournament. But we are going to continue to grow our team. We have 13 girls who are freshmen and sophomores so we will have a chance to grow. I can tell the girls are excited."
For the 2020-21 season, girls wrestling will continue its format that it had last year with participating at boys' tournaments. This past season, Arkin had put together a schedule that featured 16 all-girls tournaments and the school's first ever all-girls dual meet against York High School on Jan. 21.
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