By Krystina Iordanou
For Lake View High School wrestling captain Dulce Reyes, competing against the boys has been common practice during her first three years on the team. But with Illinois State High School Association championship changes arising more opportunity for female wrestlers await.
The 5-foot-2-inch wrestler competed in the 106- and 111-pound weight class last year, where she finished fourth in Chicago and 10th in the girl’s state tournament, hosted by Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Organization. Before this year, there was not an all-girls wrestling team at Lake View High School, which left Reyes competing against boys during most meets and practice.
“Even though I am on the women’s wrestling team now, I was still competing against guys.There were a couple of guys around my weight and I would just practice with them. They really help me to come along, and they took me in as if I were any other wrestler,” said Reyes.
Girls competing against boy wrestlers isn’t out of the ordinary for the Lake View wrestling team, according to co-captain Jonathan Carrera.
“I’ve seen girls take down guys bigger than them. I’m a heavyweight. I can go full force and Dulce could still take me down. It surprises me every time,” said Carrera.
Unlike Dulce, not every female high school wrestler is as ambitious to compete against the boys. Some girls at Lake View are scared and intimidated to compete against the boys due to the physicality of the sport, according to Carrera.
For the last three years, the IWCOA has been hosting an all-girls state championship and has added girls wrestling to its “emerging sports” list, according to their press release. Despite offering the girls their own tournament, the event does not take place during the boy’s state tournament, nor is it recognized, or state-sanctioned by their host, the Illinois High School Association.
The IHSA is the governing body for high school sports in Illinois, and Lake View Head Wrestling coach, Vaughn Camacho believes their recognition will help the sport grow because girls will have the choice and opportunity to compete against other female wrestlers.
“I think the girls should have the opportunity to do both, but it should happen in the same place (IHSA State Championship) so they get the same attention both from colleges and from the viewers.”
There are currently only 19 states that have official scholastic state championships for girls, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Camacho is hopeful that Illinois will be joining this list within the next few years.
Due to scheduling conflicts and time constraints on the boy’s tournament, a dual tournament in one location is not in the plans, but Camacho’s hope that Illinois becomes the 20th state on the list is not out of reach, according to Colleen Kristoff, IWCOA Executive Board Member.
“What we see is that states who have sanctioned the sport grow exponentially that year. IHSA will sanction an all-girls state tournament. I anticipate in the next calendar year. I fully believe that because I am working closely with them to achieve that,” said Kristoff.
Regardless of the outcome, Reyes believes a female wrestler can assist in breaking the mold.
“There is this stereotype around this sport that it’s only for boys. But once you start bringing more girls in it, you start breaking the stereotype, so it makes it easier for everyone else who’s going to try it after,” said Reyes.
In 2018, 16,562 girls competed in wrestling throughout the U.S., nearly doubling in participation over the last five years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Additionally, 63 colleges now sponsor girls’ varsity wrestling programs, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
This growth has placed girls wrestling on the national map, leaving wrestlers, such as Dulce, with opportunities to compete at the next level.