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OHSWCA to sponsor state girls wrestling

Former Canfield High School wrestling coach Dean Conley has been involved in wrestling for nearly 40 years, and the former Ohio high school coach of the year can spend hours explaining the benefits he has taken from the sport.

Now the president of the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association, Conley and the OHSWCA believe it’s time more people enjoy all the good wrestling can provide.

The OHSWCA today announced it will sponsor a girls state wrestling tournament for the upcoming season.

“Everything that we’ve been able to benefit from in this great sport in our lives, coaching and as a competitor, girls can learn the same lessons,” said Conley, who coached the Cardinals for 18 years before retiring in 2017. “It is not a boys-only sport; it’s just been presented that way for such a long time.”

The girls state tournament is set to take place on Feb. 22-23, 2020, at Hilliard Davidson High School. Conley said the OHSWCA worked closely with the OHSAA in creating the event. The two organizations are hoping to further grow the sport for females.

Currently, girls must wrestle on the boys team and compete against males during the season. There is no girls-only division at any level.

“The OHSAA is in full support of the OHSWCA conducting a girls tournament,” OHSAA wrestling administrator Tyler Brooks said in a press release. “This tournament is an important and necessary step for girls wrestling as they seek OHSAA emerging sport status. Last year, there were more than 200 females who wrestled for their school, so we look forward to partnering with the OHSWCA in order to help grow the sport of wrestling by increasing participation opportunities for female wrestlers.”

Conley said approximately 240 girls wrestled last season, but other states are in the thousands.

The “emerging sport status” Brooks referred to means the OHSAA would recognize girls wrestling as a sanctioned sport. Similar to traditional sports such as football, basketball and baseball, emerging sports are granted a postseason ending with a state championship.

There are a few steps to take before a sport reaches that level. The guidelines vary, but one key factor is there must be enough schools participating. For instance, in a recent report involving boys volleyball being considered for emerging sport status, it was said 150 schools must participate.

Furthermore, a sport must be able to sustain itself financially and manage a postseason.

Conley doesn’t anticipate girls wrestling being sanctioned right away, but he does see the sport growing quickly.

“Ohio is lagging behind in number of girls (who wrestle) at the high school level,” Conley said. “Last year there were 241 or somewhere around there. What we think will happen is as those girls start to get recognized at the high school level and it starts to get covered in the media, that more and more girls at the middle school and youth level will stay with it.”

Further information regarding the tournament will be shared by the OHSWCA in the fall, according to the release.

“This will move us forward and hopefully give us a shot in the arm to grow wrestling on the women’s side,” Conley said. “It’s already at the international level. There are already several colleges that have sanctioned it, and more are growing every year. So this is just the natural progression, and Ohio is hopefully going to be a leader in five years.”

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