The debate has been going on for some time now in this state about “Should Women’s wrestling become a sanctioned sport?” It is one of the fastest growing sports across the country and is only getting bigger. Currently 23 states have it sanctioned including bordering states Colorado, Missouri, South Dakota and Kansas. In addition, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington have all sanctioned the sport in the last few years. South Dakota and Oklahoma were the most recent states to sanction the sport on April 21st and April 22nd. Nebraska can’t drag their feet on this subject, now is the time to add it and not fall behind the curve.
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to the sport. On February 1st, NSWCA held the first ever girls state tournament in York. They had 115 girls competing from 37 different schools and that number is expected to grow. Former Olympian Georgi Ivanov with NEUSA Wrestling said “Currently over 200 youth girls are registered with NEUSA cards.” Nebraska Wrestling Academy in Omaha has over 40 girls alone in their room training. Nebraska City and West Point each had 22 girls out for wrestling this season. Schools across the state are starting to see an increase in girls competing. In 2019 Platteview and West Point-Beemer held the first ever Girls Wrestling Dual.
Why should Nebraska add the sport?
Paige Denke from Chadron competes year around. She wrestled at Fargo, NEUSA Girls State, and The Nebraska State Tournament. She had this to say about Women’s Wrestling.
It’s not about just adding numbers for Title IX. The sport of wrestling teaches boys and girls the importance of self confidence, as well as physical and mental toughness, discipline, punctuality, and how to be reliable. How to compete on their own, it is just one on one with no one to rely on to have your back, to go out and give maximum effort knowing that the person across from you has also dedicated their time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and pain. Wrestlers are a different breed. They think differently, their desire to excel comes from within. It is a way for girls from all walks of life and different backgrounds to compete. If they are too short for volleyball or basketball, don’t have the hand-eye coordination for softball, don’t have the speed for track, they can always wrestle. Wrestling has no limits. Tall or short, big or small, fast or slow, there is opportunity for anyone to compete.
Les Painter on the importance of Women’s Wrestling
Les Painter has had a major impact on the sport of Women’s Wrestling in Nebraska. He worked with Norm Manstedt and Tyler Herman to put together the first ever Girls State tournament in January. He has been a key component to helping bring more clarity and perspective on women’s wrestling. He has met with Wrestle Like a Girl and many coaches at the high school and college level who are all working together to provide opportunities for these young ladies. They had 115 girls competing at the inaugural women’s state tournament. The response he got out of it was unbelievable saying “We had just about every media outlet in the state there covering it. The coaches, the fans, and even some of the NSAA directors in attendance could not believe how competitive the tournament turned out to be. There is nothing better then seeing the joy on the girls faces when they won the state title. ” The more exposure the sport gets, the more people can see from their own eyes the impact it has on the ladies and how competitive they are.
The girls competing at the inaugural NSWCA women’s state tournament on February 1st, 2020.
Talking with a lot of the girls, Painter says “They want the opportunity to compete for an NSAA State Championship. We have to do it right for them. Girls against girls going out and competing for a title. We have to give them exposure. Once people see this, and these girls can get the recognition they deserve, more people will buy in” He wants to see more tournaments for them, where they are not going on at the same times as boys tournaments so they can get more recognition and attention. He adds “We need to add more tournaments out west, and get NCN and Striv Sports involved so there is more exposure.”
Some of the misconceptions people have of the sport is that it is to violent. Painter points out “Any sport where there is competition, it is going to be violent. I see it at girls basketball games. What people need to realize is having girls wrestling each other, is an equal playing field. We need to give them the option to go out for wrestling. Right now, they only have basketball, and in some bigger schools, swimming and diving. We can get wrestling in to every school, give these girls the option to do what they want.” He talks about how some people worry about getting a championship bracket of just two girls. People need to realize the weight classes for women don’t need to be the same as the men’s. They can move them around so that they are more flexible. You will get more quantity in each bracket and a better quality of competition that way.
The impact women’s wrestling could have is limitless. Painter believes “Womens wrestling will save boys wrestling in the end. It will bring more exposure to the sport as a whole. It will make both divisions of wrestling a lot stronger, and bring a different level of joy and excitement to the sport. Women’s wrestling will have an impact on a lot of theses ladies for later in their lives. For me, it’s the best self defense I could teach my daughters.” Many people agree with him. Having wrestling as a sport, gives girls the opportunity to express themselves through the sport and not hold back. Just like boys wrestling, These ladies will have some where to direct their mental and physical frustrations and their emotions and put that energy towards the sport.
Currently, three colleges in Nebraska have women’s wrestling. York College, Midland University and Hastings College, who will have their inaugural season next school year. They are among 68 colleges offering the sport. It is another outlet for female student athletes to earn scholarships and continue their education at the next level. Matt Atwood, the head coach at Midland has been spearheading women’s wrestling in our state for years now. Helping with NEUSA and coaching the females at Fargo. His guidance helped lead Midland to a second place finish in the conference and he had two individual champions this past season.
There iare currently four wrestlers from Nebraska competing in college. In addition, Jerzie Menke will be heading to Dixie State and Marissa Burt will be heading to Jamestown in the fall. With the addition of the sport to NSAA, the sport could grow exponentially creating new opportunities for many females. Atwood has really seen the growth in recruiting these past few years saying “Just in the last year the growth in the sport has been crazy. We went from recruiting girls who maybe wrestled a couple years in high school, to now they start wrestling at a young age and they are becoming elite wrestlers. At Midland, we went from having seven or eight girls, to seventeen last year, and next year we will have over 40 girls competing for us.” It has been a solid increase for Midland, not just in quantity, but also in quality.
Recruiting for the sport in Nebraska can be tricky when the coaches are having to go to other states and try and bring these girls in over programs that are in their home states. Getting women’s wrestling in Nebraska wouldn’t just provide opportunities in Nebraska, it could be an outlet for these female athletes to gain scholarships in other states and explore what there is outside of Nebraska and earn a scholarship to do it. “Wrestling being a sanctioned sport would help immensely, even with just the quality of these female athletes. I have girls on my team that were volleyball, basketball, and softball players that didn’t see an opportunity in those sports beyond high school because maybe they were too short, or what ever the case may be. With wrestling, it created an outlet where they could get a college scholarship. In other states, we are seeing the sport blow up as soon as it gets sanctioned. We’re seeing huge numbers of girls go out for wrestling. One school in Topeka, Kansas had 63 girls go out in the first year. Other states we are seeing all these girls get the opportunities to go on to college, just because their state has women’s wrestling as a sanctioned sport. Every other state is going to end up sanctioning the sport and their is going to be opportunities everywhere else. The longer Nebraska pushes it back the more our female wrestlers are going to fall behind.” said Atwood. We have seen in other sports, Nebraska females have proven to be elite athletes going division one all across the country for volleyball, basketball, softball, swimming, and track. In the 2021 recruiting cycle, Nebraska has the number one softball and volleyball recruits in the country. This state has proven to produce amazing female athletes. Wrestling can easily follow in those footsteps if provided an opportunity.
From the coach
Ray Maxwell is the head coach at West Point-Beemer. He was one of the first coaches to start women’s wrestling in Nebraska. This was his fourth year of having women’s teams and he has seen the numbers grow each year. Starting with six, to this past year when he had 21. When he first started he took his group of six girls to Colorado and won the first tournament they entered. The growth of women’s wrestling in the state has been greatly welcomed by Coach Maxwell. Last year, West Point-Beemer travelled to Platteview to have the first ever all girls dual. It was a lasting memory he wont forget. “Platteview did a great job of hosting the event. Having it near Omaha gave the opportunity for local news, Omaha World Herold and Lincoln Journal Star to come out and cover it. The two schools put on a great performance and the girls competed hard. It was such an incredible night and something the girls will certainly never forget.
West Point-Beemer has been a banner program for the state. They were the first ever girls teams champions at this years NSWCA tournament. Coach Maxwell and the WPB program received an incredible honor. They were invited to the Nebraska Legislative floor to be honored as the first ever girls state champions by the State of Nebraska. “It was so incredible a state legislator wanted to recognize the school and these girls. It will forever be commemorated in Nebraska History. It was an honor for the girls names to be read and the school to be recognized. It was one of the highest honors and best moments of my life. A legislator thought enough of us and the sport of women’s wrestling.” Maxwell said.
It wasn’t easy at first. He said he held a meeting at first just to see how many girls would go out. He had eight girls showed up to the meeting and six went out. He searched for tournaments he could take the girls and that’s how they ended up in Colorado. As the years have gone by though, he has seen much higher numbers and believe next year he could have more girls than boys out for wrestling. He thinks as a whole, Nebraska could get to the point where they have the same numbers of girls wrestling as boys. As for the community, he said they were a little slower to respond. “At first, it was pretty mixed. People didn’t think girls should be wrestling. They thought it would be girls wrestling against boys, Once they saw the girls compete though and saw how competitive they are they began to accept it. Once they saw them and got a better understanding of the sport being girls against girls they became very supportive.”
Coach Maxwell really hopes people get behind the sport. There is room for a lot of growth in women’s wrestling. He said, “A lot of girls don’t have a sport. This sport will give them a family. It will teach them work ethic, self defense, it will give them confidence. The sky is the limit for these girls.” He has continued to be proactive in the wrestling community with growing the sport. He has worked with other coaches, Les Painter, Norm Manstedt, NSAA, and Wrestle Like a Girl to provide the best opportunity for women’s wrestling to excel in this state.
From a fathers prospective
Jeremy Overman has been around wrestling his whole life. Growing up in Iowa, wrestling is in his DNA. His son, Jaden graduated from Creighton Prep this year and was a state qualifier at 138 pounds. Jeremy would take his daughter, Madyn to his sons practices and during one practice, Madyn asked if she could go out and wrestle around. What started out as just messing around has turned into a tremendous young career. The one thing that really stuck out when she was messing around is how well she controlled her body. She never got in bad position. In Madyns first tournament she went out and won the whole tournament against other girls including a win by tech fall in the finals. Jeremy thought that would be the end of it since there was no other girls tournaments at that age. So Madyn decided she would wrestle boys. She started competing well there too. Now she has been wrestling for four years. At nine years old, Madyn has won three Rocky Mountain Nationals, three Winter Nationals, one Nebraska state titles, wrestled in the finals four times for Nebraska state, and has placed three times at Tulsa. She also placed at Tulsa in the boys division.
Madyn posing with her Rocky Mountain Nationals trophy.
As a father, Jeremy doesn’t get involved with the emotions whether Madyn is wrestling a boy a girl. He says “It is all mental. If it’s a boy or a girl she approaches the sport the same way. The expectations is where there will be a difference. Against other girls, she expects to win. When she is wrestling boys, it’s a little different. She can be winning big, but sometimes she can get caught and then its up to her to fight out of it.” He believes for girls its the same as boys when it comes to wrestling. Work hard, be disciplined, continue to fight etc.
When it comes to sanctioning women’s wrestling in Nebraska, he thinks it would be a huge step for the future of our state. “It will show a huge evolution of the sport. More girls will go out when they know there is prize at the end. You will get 100 percent more involvement. It will bring a lot more attention to the sport. It will be another outlet for girls. You will also get the rogue girls going out, the ones who get told they cant do something, so they go out to prove you wrong.” Jeremy says. Going out and competing against boys could turn a lot of girls away, but knowing they will be competing against other girls, and they could be a state champion, you will see the numbers rapidly climb. It wont just be at the high school level either, you will see it all the way down.
Not only will it create another outlet for Nebraska females to compete, it will prove to be a giant stepping stone for woman of the future. “There is so much these girls could benefit from women’s wrestling, in the sport and in life. The wrestling side of it is the same as the boys, a lot of that carries over, such as discipline and independence. On the mental side though, it is empowering. They put in the same blood, sweat, tears, and grind as the boys, and for boys that is expected. For a girl to do it though, is empowering. It will teach them so much from a young age, the empowerment perspective that they will use in school, for a job, and in life. Going out and wrestling will just enable their perspective” Jeremy says. Being able to go out and do what the boys do, having the self confidence to be able to do the same things and have success does so much mentally for a girl.
Traveling all across the country, the Overman’s have seen the evolution and growth of women’s wrestling happen right before their eyes. They have been to tournaments 800 miles away with just three girls where they would enter Madyn in the girls bracket and boys bracket to get matches. They have also went to tournaments like Rocky Mountain Nationals and Tulsa where they have full brackets. Jeremy says, “California, Hawaii, Washington they have always had a lot of female wrestlers, but the real growth I have seen is the abundance of girls going out for wrestling in Ohio, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Iowa, it is growing rapidly.”
Fully Sanctioned vs Emerging Sport
The vote on the 21st will have three options. To become a fully sanctioned sport, an emerging sport, or not pass at all. Either vote passing woman’s wrestling is a huge win and move in the right direction for the sport of women’s wrestling. Becoming a fully sanctioned sport is the goal. As an emerging sport though, it will become a reality that it is here. Schools will start to prepare for the addition of the sport as a whole. Schools will start to work out a plan for a assistant boys coach or volunteer coach who can head up the woman’s program. Start to schedule wrestling matches and tournaments. figure out and enact how to handle practices. People like Les Painter, Jim Kasik, Norm Manstedt, and organizations like Wrestle Like a Girl will be out selling the sport and all of the opportunities that can come from it. Lastly, girls across this state will see that they have an opportunity to show up and participate. They will be heard, respected, and honored. They will be ultimate deciders of the future of woman’s wrestling and the future it holds.