Should boys and girls be allowed to compete against one another in high school wrestling? Of course. Not. Maybe. I don’t know.

I never wrestled (my school didn’t have a wrestling team), but for a year, I served as a practice dummy of sorts for members of the Brockton High School wrestling team when I was living in town and managing the local McDonald’s. I was about five years older than the guys I was wrestling, and although their technique and expertise routinely kicked my butt, I was occasionally able to hold my own and put up a fight because of my size. This is what wrestling is about:

Inflicting damage on your opponent. It is an aggressive, oftentimes violent, sometimes bloody sport in which two competitors try to pin one another on a mat using technique, endurance and pain.

This is why I am still not sure how to feel about Joel Northrup, the high school wrestler with a 35-4 record who forfeited his first round match in the Iowa state tournament rather than competing against female wrestler Cassy Herkelman.

Herkleman and Megan Black were the first girls to qualify for the state tournament.

My first reaction when I read about Northrup’s decision:

What a sexist jerk.

But then I read his statement:

“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. 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. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."

I think he might be right.


While I am not opposed to men and women competing on the same field of play in almost all circumstance, I feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with young men and women competing in sports like wrestling or boxing against one another.

Even if the woman is willing and eager to participate, there’s something in the DNA of most men that tells us not to hit a woman. This includes slamming her body to the mat, applying a hold meant to inflict pain and otherwise engaging in physical combat.

I think I admire Northrup for his decision.

I think I might have felt the same way.

Although if my daughter, Clara, wanted to wrestle someday and her opponent forfeited because she is a girl, I think I’d be angry, too.

Understanding but angry.

Then again, if Clara did choose to wrestle and I watched some high school boy slam her down on the mat, bloody her nose and wrench her arm behind her back, I don’t think I’d be very happy either.

This is not as easy as it looks.