Louisa County’s Taylor Waddy started wrestling at a young age, competing primarily against boys.
Waddy and other female wrestlers will soon have more opportunities to compete against each other.
The Virginia High School League is on the verge of including girls’ wrestling as a sanctioned sport in the Commonwealth.
In September, the VHSL Executive Committee voted to designate girls’ wrestling as an “emerging sport” beginning with the 2022–23 season. The sport now has three years to meet the 50%+1 member schools that currently have wrestling for the sport to be sanctioned by the VHSL.
According to VHSL figures submitted to the National Federation of High Schools, approximately 271 Virginia schools fielded a boys’ wrestling team in the 2021-22 season, with 131 of those schools having at least one woman on the team.
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Under this proposal, a girls team will be considered if there is at least one woman who makes it through the hydration test and makes it onto the school’s master’s proficiency list. There would need to be at least 136 schools with women on their rosters for VHSL to continue sanctioning girl wrestling. If these requirements are not met, the three-year process would have to start again.
VHSL executive director Billy Haun said it was a long time coming.
“For four or five years, wrestler people have been talking about girl wrestling,” Haun said. “We talked about making this an emerging sport a few years ago and some of the wrestlers wanted to wait another year and then COVID hit us and that put it on hold.”
The push for girls’ wrestling has been spearheaded by a number of schools, including Culpeper County, Meridian and Brentsville District, which have a long history of having female wrestlers in their programs.
Culpeper County wrestling coach Alex Csontos and the Virginia Women’s wrestling community began pushback in 2016. Csontos worked with Bill Swink, former Spotsylvania athletic director and Virginia Wrestling Association state chair, along with Virginia Women’s Wrestling director Sara Bahoura and Riverside High School coaches Matt Erice and Aubrey Burkett-Erice, Riverbend High School coach Mark Roberts, and athletic directors at several schools to help bring the plan to fruition.
“We’ve taken our first big step,” said Csontos. “In addition to suspending an unlimited number of girls’ events statewide, this new sports proposal also offers women a state VHSL invitational tournament. This would be the first year that it would be recognized by the VHSL as an official championship, although it is still an invitational championship. Previously we weren’t allowed to call it a VHSL championship event because it wasn’t a sanctioned sport yet.”
In central Virginia, girls’ wrestling has been on the rise in recent seasons. Louisa County had several female wrestlers last season and coach Roger Stewart’s program now has about 20 girls competing at the junior varsity and varsity levels.
Waddy was a regular for the Lions coed team last season and had a lot of success. She was undefeated (14-0) in five matches against female opponents and is considered one of the best prep wrestlers in the country.
“VHSL’s vote to make women’s wrestling an emerging sport is very exciting,” said Waddy. “Virginia Women’s Wrestling has worked very hard to sanction women’s wrestling and this is a huge step in the right direction. For me, this judgment means I have more opportunities to compete and face new opponents. I am also really looking forward to an official state tournament next year.”
Waddy was one of several wrestlers selected to speak at the Wrestle Like a Girl convention in Washington DC earlier this year.
“I felt like it was a great opportunity and I was very happy to speak on behalf of the wrestlers in Virginia,” Waddy said. “Based on most of their responses, they seemed supportive of the idea.”
Waddy has wrestled boys since she started in sixth grade and admits it was an “okay” experience.
“Of course, after I made it through high school, they got stronger and I can’t keep up with most of them,” Waddy said. “I definitely felt disadvantaged and at high risk of injury wrestling high school boys.”
She is excited about the opportunity for more girls tournaments and the idea of a VHSL sanctioned invitational tournament.
“I feel like most people were fine with that, and I know all of the wrestlers were very happy to have them available,” Waddy said. “The only downside was that they sometimes got in trouble with the boys’ games and were pushed aside by some coaches.”
Orange County, Monticello and Fluvanna County also had female wrestlers on their rosters last winter and are part of the growth of the sport.
Orange County wrestling coach Bryan Seal said he has had at least one female wrestler on his team in the past four years. Attendance dropped somewhat after the outbreak of COVID-19, but has bounced back this year.
“We have some new freshmen involved in our booster program, so we have every reason to believe that our numbers will increase, especially with our future plans,” Seal said. “Our plan is to offer girls’ wrestling as a separate exercise, but still as part of our co-ed wrestling team. As we are still in the infancy of this development, we hope to meet with the Orange County administration team to get their blessing on a partial girls wrestling schedule to be part of our team.”
During this three-year burgeoning sports window, VHSL is hosting an invitational girls’ state championship on February 24-25, 2023. The tournament features 11 weight classes and girls can compete in a total of 12 mixed or all-female events throughout the season.
During the 2023-24 season, the VHSL Girls’ Championship will expand to the NFHS’ 12-weight class model. In year three, the goal is to move to a tournament that aligns with the boys’ regional and state championship dates, using regional qualifiers for promotion and being played at the same venue of the team’s respective classification.
“Virginia and other states have a lot of girls who wrestle and the numbers seem to be growing,” Haun said. “We have a few teams that could field a separate girls’ and boys’ team at the moment. It’s growing fast in high schools across the country. College-level girls’ wrestling is also growing. I think it was important for our wrestlers. If there are enough girls wrestling, we should recognize it as a VHSL-sanctioned sport.”
For Csontos, he considers this an important decision
“I personally think this is a great first step for Virginia,” he said. “We figured out where to start building women’s teams, not just a few girls, here and there in a handful of schools. We can now show women in high school that they have a chance to win a state title in wrestling without having to compete against men, which has been a huge turn off for the girls I’ve spoken to over the years.”
Csontos recalls seeing some of the nation’s best girls compete in his program, including Jesse Kirby, Lei Nails, Bri Csontos and Trinity Berry, achieving national and international success on the mat. He said that despite their success, their achievements were not fully recognized.
“They were looked down on by guys who said they weren’t good because they wouldn’t make it to the boys’ state tournament,” Csontos said. “No matter how good these women were, they were always held to a bar that didn’t exist for any other VHSL women’s sport.”
The Culpeper County coach also believes the decision could spark the sport’s much-needed growth.
“I think it will save the sport,” Csontos said. “It’s no secret that wrestling in general has been losing athletes for years, so alongside trying to recruit more men, women’s wrestling has opened so many people’s eyes to what a great sport it is. I think it will greatly increase our visual exposure to parents as their children grow up and provide a place where their children, boys and girls, can both train and not have to think about whether wrestling is a boys-only sport. “
“I have a really good feeling that this sport is going to take off and the numbers are going to be through the roof,” she said. “All the other wrestlers I’ve talked to love that they don’t have to wrestle guys as often or feel like they’re not really part of the team.”