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The History of Women’s Wrestling
In most communities across America, there are a growing number of wrestling clubs that offer developmental and participation opportunities for young girls. USA Wrestling, the National Governing Body for amateur wrestling, The AAU, NUWAY, and many independent clubs offer developmental/participation opportunities for young girls to wrestle. Over the past 20 years, participation has exploded and now young girls are competing around the nation and in most instances, they are very competitive with the young boys. For more information, go to www.teamusa.org/usa-wrestling, www.aausports.org and www.nuwaywrestling.com.
WOMEN'S SCHOLASTIC WRESTLING
State High School Athletic Associations
While there have been isolated instances of young women participating on scholastic wrestling teams around the nation in the 1970s, significant growth occurred around mid 1990s. Initially, women’s scholastic wrestling had a strong foothold in Texas which led to the first interscholastic state wrestling championship for women. Over the past 25 years, California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii have also added separate high school state wrestling championships for women. In fact, today, there are 1,500 women’s high school wrestling teams in America and over 9,900 participants. Texas currently has the largest population of high school women’s wrestlers followed by California and Washington. It should also be noted that Texas and Hawaii have state laws that do not allow female wrestlers to compete against male wrestlers. All women who compete under the state high athletic association umbrella compete in folk-style. Wrestling is also an official high school sport for girls in New York City and they compete in Freestyle (international style).
Today, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported 14,587 girls competing in high school, representing approximately 1,800 programs. This number is not fully accurate, as a number of states do not report girls in their wrestling statistics if they compete on the boy’s team.
For more information about scholastic wrestling (for women) in your state, go to the following state high school athletic association website: www.nfhs.org/resources/state-association-listing.
WOMEN'S INTERCOLLEGIATE WRESTLING
History of women’s college wrestling:
Women competing in college wrestling was not common until the last two decades, but there have been a few athletes who were part of their men’s college teams and also entered international women’s events. A few of the prominent women who wrestled on their men’s teams included Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann (Lock Haven), Olympic bronze medalist Patricia Miranda (Stanford), Olympian Kelsey Campbell (Arizona State), World medalists Jenny Wong (Lock Haven), Jackie Berube (UW-Lacrosse), Debbie Weiss (Arizona State) and Afsoon Roshanzamir (UC-Davis), World Team members Erin Tomeo (Lock Haven), Lauren Wolfe (Cornell), Jenna Pavlik (Lock Haven) and others.
The first varsity women’s wrestling team was created in the late 1990s at the University of Minnesota-Morris, under its coach Doug Reese. Some of the pioneer programs which added varsity teams in the early years included Missouri Valley College, the University of the Cumberlands, Menlo College, Pacific University and Neosho County CC. Cal-State Bakersfield had a number of talented women competing in the early years. These teams competed against each other and also against Canadian women’s college teams, but a main part of their schedule was participating in USA Wrestling national and international women’s freestyle events.
In 2002, the International Olympic Committee announced that women’s freestyle wrestling had been added to the program of the Olympic Games, with its premier event occurring at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, with four weight class. This announcement helped in the growth and promotion of women’s wrestling at all levels, including the college level.
History of Women’s Intercollegiate National Championships:
The first official women’s college national wrestling championships was held in 2004 at Missouri Valley College, which won the tournament led by four individual champions. Right from the first event, the competition was in women’s freestyle wrestling, which is the Olympic style. The event remained at Missouri Valley College in 2005, then was hosted at the University of the Cumberlands in 2006 and Pacific University in 2007.
In 2008, the coaches within women’s college wrestling came together to form the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA). The group created a set of bylaws, instituted eligibility and recruiting rules, and elected leaders for the organization. The WCWA ultimately determined the official women’s college season to be in the fall, with a national championships set for late January. The WCWA rules/regulations are aligned with the NCAA with the exception that their women’s teams compete in the international style of Freestyle as opposed to the collegiate style (Folkstyle). View by-laws
The first WCWA Women’s College Nationals was hosted at Oklahoma City University in 2008 and continues to this day. Other colleges which have hosted the WCWA Nationals have been Missouri Valley College, Menlo College and King College. The 2016 WCWA Nationals is scheduled for Oklahoma City University.
The WCWA has grown to include 30 intercollegiate programs, with additional teams being added each year. Of these teams, nine have NCAA affiliation, and a majority compete in the NAIA. There are a few teams in the NJCAA.
The National Wrestling Coaches Association has also been sponsoring a national dual meet championship for women’s intercollegiate teams for the past 5-6 years or so. These teams compete in the international style of Freestyle. Each year, 16 of the top teams are invited to participate in this premier event. The 2016 National Championship concluded with NCAA member institution King University winning the championship.
The National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) provides a league and national championship for college club women’s wrestling teams. Currently, they have 17 college club women’s teams that pay $400 membership dues to compete in the NCWA League. They compete in “folkstyle” competition. Click here for a listing of teams:
WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING
The first recognized World Championships in women’s freestyle wrestling was held in 1987 in Lorenskog, Norway. The United States did not enter a team, which featured some European nations and Japan. In 1989, the international wrestling federation FILA added the women’s division alongside the men at the World Wrestling Championships in Martigny, Switzerland, which brought major attention to the event. The United States entered that event and has participated in every World Championships ever since.
FILA held annual Women’s World Championships every year, including Olympic years, until 2004, when women’s wrestling had its debut at the Olympic Games. The number of women’s weight classes have changed over the years, starting with nine, dropping to six, then moving to seven, which is the current number of weights.
However, in 2008, FILA also decided to host a World Championships for women shortly after the Olympic Games in the seven World Championships weight classes, since the Olympic Games only provided four weight classes. In 2012, FILA also held the World Championships after the Olympics in the seven weights.
Women’s wrestling made its Olympic debut at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and was contested in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China and in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. It has been announced that the women’s wrestling competition will increase to six weight classes at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Japan has been the dominant nation in women’s wrestling at the Olympic Games, with 11 medals of the available 12 opportunities, including seven Olympic champions. Two Japanese women have won three Olympic gold medals, Saori Yoshida (55 kg) and Kaori Icho (63 kg). Both athletes continue to compete.
At the World Championships, Japan has won 18 of the 25 World Team titles. The only other nations to win World titles were Russia (1995, 1998), China (2001, 2012), Azerbaijan (2009), the United States (1999) and France (1987). Likewise, Japan has also won the most individual World gold medals and World medals in women’s wrestling.
The United States has been a power in women’s freestyle wrestling since it was added to international wrestling. At the Olympic Games, Team USA has won four Olympic medals (one silver and three bronze). The Olympic medalists for the USA are: Sara McMann (2004-silver at 63 kg), Patricia Miranda (2004-bronze at 48 kg), Randi Miller (2008-bronze at 63 kg) and Clarissa Chun (2012-bronze at 48 kg).
At the World Championships, the United States was a World Team champion in 1999, placed second in 2003 (when it hosted the event in New York) and has been third in the world five times (1996, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2013). At the World Championships, seven U.S. women have won a total of 11 World gold medals, and 61 total World medals. World Champions for the United States include four-time champion Tricia Saunders, two-time champion Kristie Davis and one-time champions Sandra Bacher, Iris Smith, Clarissa Chun, Elena Pirozhkova and Adeline Gray.
In addition to the Senior World Championships, the international wrestling federation FILA hosts World Championships for women at the Cadet (15-17 year old) and Junior (17-20 year old) levels. FISU, the organization which runs the World University Games and Championships, includes women’s wrestling in their events. The United States has been successful at each of these age-group levels with their women’s