One of the first things I was ever taught relative to manhood is that boys don’t fight girls. Not only is it wrong to fight a girl, but doing so makes you less of a man. My mom, other family members, coaches, and teachers all repeated the same message. Society as a whole looks down a man who engages in such behavior. There are several derogatory terms to describe such men. I won’t mention any of them here, but I’m sure you know a few. Fast forward 30 years and here comes Joel Northrup – the Iowa high school wrestler who forfeited his first-round match in the state tournament because his first opponent would have been Cassy Herkelman.
Northrup refused to wrestle the freshman because she is a girl. He said of Herkelman, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy … However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner.” Contrary to popular belief, most young people are still being raised with a strong set of positive core beliefs and principles. I’ve read several accounts which describe Northrup’s actions as everything from chauvinistic to chivalrous. I don’t know if I would characterize what he did as either of these, but I do respect and agree with the young man’s decision.
Sportsmanship is about fairness and fairness is doing what’s right for both sides. It’s not fair for Herkelman to win by forfeit or have a boy take it easy on her because she’s a girl. It’s also not fair for Northrup to bear the burden that would come with losing to a girl in the state tournament or injure her and live with that stigma. Let me tell you a quick story. Roughly 10 years ago, I coached wrestling and weightlifting simultaneously. There was a girl on both teams named Michelle. Michelle was 11, strong as a bull, quick as a hiccup, and tough as week-old steak. She performed pull-ups and push-ups better than most of my boys. Michelle was a coach’s dream. I entered her in a novice wrestling meet, but I had no idea how she would do.
Most of the kids were brand new to wrestling as was Michelle. It was her first meet and she matched up against a kid who was having his first meet. I shook hands with the young man’s coach and his mom turned on the camcorder. The referee started the match and Michelle executed a quick double-leg takedown and the boy was on his back. Michelle had him in a chest to chest position. The pin should have come quickly, but it did not. She had her arm under his left shoulder. She scored a lot of back points, but couldn’t get the pin because both of his shoulders weren’t down. In that two-minute round, the boy was on his back for more than 90 seconds, unable to move.
He squirmed and shook under the pressure of the much stronger Michelle, but was unable to escape. The boy began to cry and yell for his mom. Between rounds, I could hear him being berated by his coach and his mom. They told him to be a man. I told Michelle she would win if she just moved her arm on the pin. The match was over 20 seconds later. The coach gave me a wet noodle handshake and the mom scooped her son up and carried him away as if he were a newborn. I never saw the boy at another meet. Michelle went on to wrestle in other matches. She won some and she lost some. While I don’t think any boys took it easy on her, I saw many of them looking confused when they wrestled her. When they grabbed her leg, they didn’t pull too hard. They were careful not to even accidentally touch her in the wrong place.
Even the matches she lost by pinfall were never chest to chest. The boys who beat her found another way. I’m saying that as a society, we can’t have it both ways. Wrestling is a combat sport and we teach our boys not to fight girls. If you beat a girl, you haven’t really won. If you get beat by a girl, you’re a loser. This doesn’t apply to sports like basketball or volleyball; where the objective is not to physically subdue your opponent. Wrestling is the only combat sport sanctioned in our schools. Boys should wrestle boys and girls should wrestle girls. We separate boys and girls in sports where the participants have almost no chance of making physical contact. Golf and tennis immediately come to mind. We should do the same in a sport where the potential for injury and humiliation is exponentially greater. Until next time…
Be a Good Sport!