Joel Northrup, a homeschooled Iowa senior and standout wrestler, has defaulted on his match with Megan Herkelman, a Cedar Falls freshman, because he refuses to compete against a girl. Herkelman and fellow Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black made history this year by becoming the first two female wrestlers ever to quality fort the state's wrestling championships. Black lost her first match, but Herkelman succeeded in pinning her opponent and will advance to the next round, where she would have been facing Northup, if he hadn't backed out.
In a statement to the press, Northup remarked:
“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."
To which Herkelman’s father, Bill Herkelman, responded via text message, stating: "It's nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round. I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well in the remainder of the tourney.”
While the two men have weighed in (rather gentlemanly) on the topic, there has been no public statement made by Megan Herkelman herself on the matter as the tournament organizers have declined to make Herkelman available for questioning. Though Northrup was extremely polite in his statement, his reasons remain a little unclear. Which faith forbids boy-girl contact wrestling? Is it that he doesn’t want to risk losing to a girl, that his mom doesn’t want him rolling around in public with a girl, or that he thinks girls are fragile and is scared of hurting her?
Though gender segregation is de rigueur for most highschool sports, only three states have a separate wrestling division for girls: California, Hawaii and Texas. Whether gender segregation helps or hinders female students interested in playing sports, rough'n'tumble or not, is a matter of debate. Girls-only divisions can encourage students who might feel daunted by the notion of physical competition with boys to get involved in sports. However, gender-segregated sports often ghettoize women athletes; resulting in female-teams receiving less funding and women athletes being taken less seriously by press, fans, and recruiters.
By allowing women to compete with men when it comes to wrestling, women wrestlers can benefit from the same training, funding, and competitive atmosphere that their male counterparts do – learning how to push their bodies to its physical limits. Hopefully, Herkleman’s and Black’s achievements will encourage more girls to meet their male peers on the mat, normalizing the matter, and making a Northup-style protest a thing of the past.