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Chicago Daily Herald
In 1990, there were 112 girls who participated nationwide in the sport of high school wrestling. Fast forward, and that number has grown exponentially, with nearly 17,000 as of last season. Not accepted by society during those early years, the opportunity to do so has been presented by nearly every state association, including here in Illinois. Last season, the IWCOA (Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association) conducted its second annual girls state championships in Springfield crowning 12 state champs.
Last Wednesday, Batavia coach Scott Bayer and his Bulldogs club hosted an all-girls dual quad, the first in program history — cheering on wrestlers from seven schools for this first ever event in program history. "It was a terrific night," said Bayer, now in his seventh year in charge at Batavia. "This year, the IHSA classified girls wrestling as an 'emerging sport' so with the support of the school administration, coaching staff, our boys team and the wrestling community, we decided to go 'all-in' with an event such as this."
Bayer said all those involved made a commitment to recruit, train and submit female wrestlers into competitions not yet on the schedule, and to run a girls wrestling season concurrent with the boys campaign. "Fifteen to 20 years ago, everyone would have said no to such a thought, but it's a new age now, and it's obvious through the numbers growth the sport is growing leaps and bounds," said Bayer.
Larkin would in fact send the most into this contest with 11 while seven others from around the area, including Downers Grove South, Maine East and Niles West, contributed wrestlers in several weight classes. "Smaller teams were able to plug (in) wrestlers to fill open spots in lineup spots," said Larkin coach Mike Hodge, whose team swept all three matches while having four of his wrestlers — Malyna Camacho (113), Jackie McCain (153), Kasandra Perez (164) and Arriana Miramontes (225) — stay undefeated on the season by going 3-0 on the night.
Royals junior Yaretsi Selvas, on the strength of two tech-falls victories and a fall, was honored as the Mega-Dual Most Valuable Wrestler. Bayer would mix and match the entrants to fill out the brackets in order to have four complete teams, each having four dual meets before the night came to an end. That included his 11, and Taylin Long, a four-time state runner-up and 2-time national qualifier.
"Let's face it, wrestling is a tough, sometimes brutal sport, and one that isn't particularly pretty, but we've seen first hand the girls in our program meet the challenge, and I know the guys have a lot of respect for all of them," said Bayer. "The girls are like sponges, they want to learn as much as they can, so to have them in our room has really helped enhance our program."
During the early years, the opportunity to participate was limited to being a part of the boys team at school, with Caitlyn Chase of Glenbard North becoming the first female wrestler to qualify into the boys state tournament in 2005. While Chase was unable to register a win at the tournament, she did go on to become a four-time Asics All-American, and three-time Freestyle National champion, among several of her other honors in her career.
To validate the rise in the numbers and interest that a wrestler such as Chase has inspired, last season, for the first time, National High School rankings can now be found on the USA Wrestling website. The sport has taken off on the collegiate end as well, with the Women's College Wrestling Association hosting its 16th national championships with nearly 40 teams, and over 325 athletes participating.
"The IHSA is aware that numbers in boys wrestling have been on a slow decline, so to tap into the obvious growth seen in girls wrestling could very well be the type of positive effect in the resurgence of boys wrestling," said Bayer. "That mega-dual last week was a great opportunity for female wrestlers to compete in a full and competitive dual format," Hodge said. "And I know for Larkin, our girls program would not have come as far as it has thus far without the dedication and hard work of my former coach, Dalton Watie. "We're thrilled to have been a part of that night at Batavia."
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