BEAR RIVER HIGH – By Cari Doutre – July 26, 2020
In a groundbreaking decision for high school sports in Utah, the Utah High School Activities Association Board of Trustees voted to officially sanction girls’ wrestling as a high school sport. The decision goes into effect in for the 2020-2021 school year.
Just as other high school sports in Utah have separate basketball teams, swim teams, track teams and others based on gender, wrestling can now be added to that list. The move makes it possible for female wrestlers at all Utah high schools to compete in an officially sanctioned program separately from the boys.
Before now the UHSAA didn’t have a sanctioned program for high school girls to wrestle in. Instead, high school girls that wanted to wrestle either joined private clubs or teams and participated in girls only wrestling tournaments - or simply wrestled boys in the UHSAA’s wrestling program.
Bear River High School wasn’t far behind in bringing this rapidly growing sport to their list of winter sports for the 2020-21 school year.
Bear River High School Athletic Director Van Park, along with Jason Bingham, a long-time Bear River High wrestling coach, met with the Box Elder School District’s Board of Education on July 15, to discuss the next move.
“It is the fastest growing girls sport right now,” Park told the board during the meeting.
“In all areas. In high school and in college. There’s a lot of scholarship potential,” Bingham added.
All Region 11 schools in Utah’s 4A division, which includes Cache County school districts and schools, have approved girls’ wrestling, Park said.
In talks with other Region 11 schools, Park added that, “Mountain Crest feels like they could have number (of female wrestlers) and the others feel like they would have one or two or three to start off with. Our region is thinking right now we would more than likely have a region meet at each school where all the schools would be there but that could change it if all of the sudden a bunch of girls in the schools decided to join.”
But that plan could easily change.
The UHSAA hasn’t released further details on what region and state classifications will look like for girls’ wrestling - or if the girls’ state wrestling tournaments will be in conjunction with the boys’ tournament. The UHSAA may not follow the same classifications for both the boys’ and the girls’ wrestling programs.
That information has yet to be announced.
Bear River High also hasn’t determined a few details of their own - including some costs associated with the new program. One detail they are certain of is a coaching staff needed to take on this new program.
“It looks like we’ll have close to 10 girls in there,” Park said about the first Bear River High girls’ wrestling team. “There will be some that have wrestled before and some that are brand new so that coach is going to have to work hard right now.”
Park asked for approval from the BESD Board of Education to hire a head coach and an assistant coach for the new program adding the importance of having “a female to help with weigh ins, skin checks, if you will – things like that. It would be very beneficial and helpful for us.”
As far as additional costs to start the program, such as transportation, are still in the works.
“We are looking at tournaments where the boys can participate and the girls can participate so they can do multiple tournaments in one location and so that would alleviate all the travel so we can take one or two busses instead of separating and going to different areas,” Bingham said but added that this won’t be the case every weekend or at every tournament.
This won’t be the first time Bear River High has had a female wrestler step onto the mat.
“We have had girls in our program when it was just with the boys and they felt like there were a lot of coaches there that they made sure that the boys were being respectful and not doing any off color things. That would be a concern that we would make sure we alleviate the very best that we could,” Park said.
MyKenna Staheli, a 2019 graduate of Bear River High, was the first competitive female wrestler for the high school’s wrestling program.
But now the girls have a program, and a team, of their own.
The Box Elder School Board of Education voted unanimously to approve high school girls’ wrestling throughout the entire school district – not just at Bear River High. It was also mentioned during the school board meeting that Box Elder High School has not approached the district about adding a girls’ wrestling team.
The decision to approve girls’ high school wrestling for Bear River High also meant approving the funding to allow the program at Bear River High to operate. The school will be hiring a head coach and an assistant coach to head up Bear River High’s first girls’ wrestling team.
Funding the school’s girls’ wrestling program is a cost that the school district can’t afford to vote against.
“I think that I can find it in the budget,” said Rod Cook, Business Administrator for Box Elder School District.
“I think that because of Title 9 that the risks that we have there is enough that we need to find the money to do it, quite frankly,” Cook added.
One board member stated the importance of adding a head coach and an assistant coach for Bear River High’s girls’ wrestling program, regardless of the additional costs.
“I really think that even though it’s going to cost more to get a coach and an assistant, I think that’s really important. I don’t think that’s an option. I don’t think we could go forward if we don’t have two coaches,” said Julie Taylor, Vice-President of BESD’s Board of Education.
“I think it’s great that Bear River is going ahead and spearheading this,” said Board Member Bryan Smith.
The history of girls wrestling at Bear River High may not date far back but the popularity of the sport has skyrocketed over the years.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Utah had 124 high school girls listed as wrestling participants. There are currently 34 states that have girls’ wrestling sanctioned as a high school sport.