CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 28,000 girls competed in high school wrestling across the country in 2020.
That is up from just 5,000 girls nationwide in 2005.
In Virginia, however, girls wrestling is not a high school sanctioned sport, so girls have to compete against boys. Local coaches are hoping that will soon change.
At first glance, wrestling practice at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake looks typical until you notice a few slightly different athletes.
“I instantly fell in love with the sport,” sophomore Samantha Jurgens told 10 On Your Side. “The competitiveness, the ability to be able to throw people and stuff like that, but I just, I love everything about the sport. The team, the coaches, the athletic-ness that we gain and everything about it.”
There are three girls on Grassfield’s wrestling team, which usually raises many questions.
“Usually they’re shocked and they’re like, oh so you wrestle boys?” said Jurgens. “I’m like usually, yeah, but sometimes I wrestle girls.”
Coaches believe that girls competing against other girls is the key to growing the sport.
“It’s hard for girls to come in and wrestle against guys and want to keep doing the sport,” said Patrick Shuler the head coach. “Some have a lot of success still, but it takes time.”
One girl who’s had that success is his daughter, Charlee.
“If you look at Charlee, one of our wrestlers, she’s a three-time State Champ, two-time in folkstyle, one-time in freestyle. She’s a starting wrestler here at Grassfield at 106,” Assistant Coach Chris Buckner added. “She’s ready to go forward for next year.”
“I love the community and the feeling of being on the mat; it’s just fun,” said Charlee Shuler. “I honestly like competing against guys because it’s less pressure for me. Guys have a totally different style of wrestling than girls, so it’s cool to learn from them.”
Even with her successes, more girls in the sport mean an equal wrestling mat.
“It’s not just for boys anymore,” said Buckner. “It’s also a growing women’s sport, and you’re more than welcome to be on the team.”
The only problem is girls wrestling isn’t sanctioned in Virginia.
“34 states have it sanctioned, so we’re one of the few that don’t,” said Shuler. “The VHSL (Virginia High School League) really needs to step up and sanction the sport.”
A spokesman for VHSL says it fully supports girls wrestling as a championship sport. Staff shared this statement with 10 on Your Side:
League staff has offered girls wrestling within our current program under the VHSL guidelines and policies dependent upon the ability to maintain sufficient participation numbers since 2018-19. In addition, the League sanctioned five events during three of the past four wrestling seasons to determine female participation numbers and the ability to sustain a girls-only wrestling championship. The only year we did not have sanctioned events was during 2020-21 due to COVID.
We currently have schools interested in adding girls wrestling as an emerging sport which is the next step in the process of becoming a full-fledged VHSL championship sport. We are awaiting a legislation proposal from those schools to present to the VHSL Executive Committee and full membership.
Buckner added that “a lot of girls have been wanting to get into the sport but haven’t because they constantly have to wrestle boys, but now that they’re able to wrestle other females and other women, I think its starting to grow a lot more.”
“It would give many girls more confidence,” Charlee pointed out. “And opportunities to start wrestling.”