Iowa high-schooler Joel Northrup had an impressive year wrestling his way to the state tournament, compiling a 35-4 record on the mat. Northrup, however, lost any chance at compete for the state championship when the tournament's draws were announced. In his first-round matchup, Northrup was to match-up with Cassy Herkelman, one of the first two female wrestlers to make state in the history of the tournament.
Citing religious beliefs, Northrup, a home-schooler, refused to compete against Herkelman.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," Northrup said. "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."
The statement released by Northrup shows maturity and was an honorable thing to do. At the same time, though, it opens up a debate about whether or not boys and girls should be on the same mat in the sport of wrestling. There are plenty of high school girls that can hold their own in the sport while experiencing plenty of success, but a significant barrier still exists.
In a few states, athletic associations are sanctioning girls-only tournaments, formatting them just like boys' state championships. In Iowa, though, that's not the case. Herkelman and the other girl, Megan Black, earned their way to state, beating many of the opposite sex, and made history in the process.
In many cases, wresting a girl is believed to be a no-win situation for the boys. The common sentiment, whether right or wrong, is that beating a girl doesn't mean much, while losing to a girl can be crippling for a teenage male. That doesn't, however, mean females shouldn't be prevented from playing the sport.
The facet of it I hadn't thought of, brought up by Northrup, was the violent aspect of it all. While it's a combat sport, it's still just a sport and the rules of society don't seem to apply on the field of play, at least in wrestling. From a young age, males are taught not to strike or inflict harm on women, and it's frowned upon by society as a whole. Does that apply to wrestling, though?
In the end, there's no way to make a blanket judgment. Some males will be comfortable and see no moral problem with wrestling the opposite sex while others will do what Northrup did and choose not to. It is an interesting case, generating national attention and placing the spotlight, perhaps unfairly, on Northrup and the two girls.