For the first time, the IHSA will host a girls wrestling state tournament, beginning with the 2021-22 season.
The IHSA announced the decision after its virtual board meeting Monday. The dates, location and structure of the event are to be determined.
“I commend the Board on their vision to further the IHSA mission by continuing to seek out more participation opportunities for high school students in Illinois,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “Participation in high school girls wrestling has grown significantly over the past few years, and we expect this announcement will only help increase that momentum here in Illinois. Our staff will use the lead time in the 2020-21 school year to best decide how the IHSA Girls Wrestling State Series fits within the current wrestling state series structure, including the dates and locations of each level of the tournament.”
The announcement marks a victory in the long journey for the state’s female wrestlers. The Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association introduced its own girls wrestling state tournament in 2017. This year’s event would have been the fourth annual event, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Traditionally, girls have had to wrestle against boys for most, if not all, of the season. Some coaches and advocates have argued that more girls would take up wrestling if they wrestled against girls more often.
The IHSA wrestling advisory committee, made up of coaches and administrators from across the state, in March recommended it was time to implement a girls state tournament.
According to the minutes from the March meeting, 837 girls across the state competed in wrestling during the 2019-20 season. That was about double the 424 girls who participated only two years earlier.
“The committee feels that it’s time for the IHSA to organize a state series tournament for girls,” the wrestling committee minutes read. “The committee feels that if this happens, the number of girls participants will significantly increase since they will be able to compete against other girls and will have the opportunity to participate in their own state series tournament.”
The committee recommended the girls state finals take place the same weekend and same location as the boys; however, the IHSA has yet to make a decision on the date or location.
The IHSA individual state tournament takes place at State Farm Center in Champaign every February. Incorporating the girls state finals into the same weekend likely will remain an option, but maneuvering mat time could be tricky. IHSA state wrestling already is jam packed with matches for three consecutive days. How the IHSA will incorporate girls wrestling sectionals in or around the boys sectionals also will have to be determined.