What does it take to get the NCAA to finally recognize your activity as an emerging sport?
This is a question that a number of female freestyle wrestling groups have been asking for some time and while the answer to the question is researchable, convincing the NCAA to grant your sport that important status is not easy.
The coastal regions such as California, Washington, Oregon, Texas and Hawaii traditionally are states that have led the way in sanctioning and committing to female wrestling tournaments and rankings.
Glancing towards the middle of America at the state of Iowa may be a harbinger of great things to come.
Like many states, Iowa doesn’t offer separate sex divisions in high school wrestling which means that the boys and girls must wrestle each other. Despite the growing popularity of the sport, there’s not much of an infrastructure for its female athletes as compared to the previously mentioned coastal states.
Waldorf University in Forest City, is the only college in Iowa with a dedicated women’s wrestling program. It is one of 38 colleges that are part of the WCWA (Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association), which is a league separate from the NCAA.
A few years ago in July of 2013, FCI Women’s Wrestling (fciwomenswrestling.com) featured them in an article. https://fciwomenswrestling.com/waldorf-can-breakthrough/
Mr. Tyreece Gilder enters his fifth season as head women’s wrestling coach at Waldorf University. He has been a member of the Warrior wrestling staff since 2012 when he began as an assistant coach for the men’s team.
According to National Public Radio (npr.org), Mr. Gilder expressed, “If the NCAA recognized women’s wrestling, there would be an immediate boost in opportunities for women wrestlers seeking to compete at the collegiate level.”
Mr. Mark Emmert became the fifth president of the NCAA in October 2010. There are nearly half a million NCAA athletes. According to their website ncaa.org, “As president he has championed greater support for student-athlete wellness and academic success. His commitment to the academic success of athletes is also reflected in newly heightened academic standards for initial eligibility.”
One of the groups that understands the significance of that recognition is Wrestle Like A Girl.
We are introduced to the Colorado based team at their site wrestlelikeagirl.org where they explain to us their goals and mission. “Wrestle Like A Girl was founded in mid-2016 by Sally Roberts, a U.S. Army combat veteran and 2x World Bronze Medalist in women’s wrestling on the premise that girls and women across the United States should be afforded opportunities to participate in the sport and that they can do anything.
The mission of Wrestle Like a Girl is to empower girls and women through the sport of wrestling to become leaders in life. Our vision is to increase the opportunities for girls and women, who either wrestle, want to wrestle, or simply want to participate in a movement to own their personal space, own their voice and own their sense of self.”
Female wrestling is widely recognized as a sport that teaches girls important life skills including having a voice in charting their future.
That’s part of the very believable and effective sales pitch that Wrestle Like A Girl and organizations like USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee, have been making to the NCAA to open its doors to female wrestling for some time.
Wrestle Like Girl will continue to collaborate with other agencies and organizations to determine the most effective way to bring women’s wrestling to the NCAA.
There is a ground swell of support at the collegiate level waiting for that opportunity to open up.
NPR shares that seventeen NCAA colleges are ready to start women’s wrestling teams if the NCAA will sanction them, including the University of Iowa, which has won 23 men’s NCAA championships and produced World and Olympic medalists.
The significance of this in terms of benefits to the female athletes are substantial.
NPR continues, “There are a host of NCAA membership benefits that male college wrestlers can receive that their female peers don’t have access to, including health insurance, scholarships, grants and internship opportunities. The WCWA provides its members health information and recognizes athletes who achieve certain GPAs, but doesn’t have the same financial assistance as the NCAA.”
In an August 12, 2017 article flowrestling.org focuses on this important opportunity for female wrestlers as well. They educate, “Women’s wrestling in the United States has been trending upwards over the last year, from Helen Maroulis’ historic Olympic gold at the Rio Olympics to Maya Nelson’s gold at the Junior World Championships last week.
Eleven NCAA institutions, including Arizona State and Maroulis’ alma mater, Simon Fraser University, provided letters of commitment with budget information in an effort to persuade the NCAA to grant women’s wrestling emerging status, with the ultimate goal of attaining full NCAA varsity sponsorship.”
Information continues to pour in that men are increasingly interested in watching female sports.
“Teamwork. That’s the biggest lesson you can learn from competing in NCAA gymnastics. Everyone just has to work together, you have to trust in everyone, and everyone has to push you to become the gymnast you want to be.”… Sam Mikulak
In an October 4, 2018 news article printed at bradenton.com they add, “Male sports fans make up more than half of the group of people with an interest in women’s sports, according to a report published Thursday by analysts Nielsen Sports.
The report found that 84 percent of general sports fans in eight key markets around the world, including the United States and Britain, have an interest in women’s sports, and that 51 percent of those are male.”
This interest was highlighted when the Women’s European Championship in 2017 attracted a television audience of 150 million, according to Nielsen.
The Nielsen’s research occurred in eight countries including Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the United States. It involved 1,000 interviews per market, split between men and women between the ages of 16 and 69.
As we’ve learned, time and persistence can yield many positive results. The key is to stay in the positive fight and fortunately there appears to be a number of female wrestling support groups determined to do that very thing.
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