The Kansas State High School Activities Association recently announced girls’ wrestling as the 23rd high school sport sponsored by the association.

The vote from 65 representatives passed 63-2 to amend rules 44 and 23 of the KSHSAA handbook. Rule 44 replicates the boys’ state championship structure for a girls’ wrestling state championship. The inaugural KSHSAA girls’ state tournament will be Feb. 27 at Tony’s Pizza Event Center in Salina, one day before the boys’ state tournament begins. All girls’ wrestlers who qualify will participate at the Feb. 27 meet regardless of classifications.

The change to Rule 23 waives the mixed team rule for the next two seasons. During this two-year period, girl wrestlers have the option to participate in both a boys’ and girls’ lineup in regular season contests. If the competition only offers a boys’ division, girls can wrestle in the meet. If the competition has a boys’ and girls’ division, the girls will have to wrestle the girls’ division. This applies to regular season meets only. The girls will wrestle against girls in postseason tournaments. Once this two-year period is up, the mixed rule will go into effect and girls will only wrestle other girls at competitions. 

While the sport is new for KSHSAA, girls’ wrestling is not new for the state of Kansas. Teams across the state have had girls wrestling for a few years now. McPherson also has hosted a girls’ state tournament during the last three seasons. McPherson coach Doug Kretzer told the Wichita Eagle back in February that there were 36 schools with 56 wrestlers. The same article said there were more than 200 girls from 80 schools at the 2019 tournament.  

Leavenworth head coach Matt Long said the Pioneers have had girls on the team for several years now. He said the team had a girl last year, but she graduated early and the team finished the season without a girl wrestler for the first time in years.

“I find that girls are not as strong as boys,” Long said. “But they are just as able to (wrestle). And they’re (usually) more flexible. They’re more than capable to finish moves. There’s always an undersized wrestler, even in male wrestling, who can beat someone bigger or stronger just by technique.”

The head coach will run both teams in the first year. Long said the team will potentially hire another coach after this upcoming season depending on the turnout for the girls’ team.

“It is all in the works still,” he said. “Since we only had one girl last year, it is hard to justify hiring a whole new coaching staff with only one girl. But we will grow with the sport. If we have a big turnout with the girls we will have a girls’ coach. I will probably stay head coach of the girls’ and boys’ teams and probably have an assistant just for the girls.”

While everything is not set in stone, Long expects the two teams to have separate practices if the numbers are high enough. If not, he said there will be more of a co-ed practice with the girls’ team breaking off for their own wrestling at times.

He also said it is still too early to know the schedule of where the team will go. He brought up how Olathe South, Basehor-Linwood and Harmon have hosted girls’ tournaments in the past. Long said the girls have been treated just like the boys on the team. He even mentioned how Hannah Overbey was a captain of the team during her senior year. 

“She was yelling at the boys,” Long said. “And leading the group around. So we made her a captain when she was a senior.”

The coach also shared the wrestler’s bio when Overbey was a senior with the wrestler’s favorite memory being “making boys cry.”

Long said he wishes that she could have been able to wrestle in the new sport. 

“Yeah,” Long said. “I would love to have Hannah back on our team. We had a couple other girls who wrestled well. But if I had the chance, I would love to have the girls back where they could have a chance to wrestle the other girls.”

For Overbey, she said she was excited when the sport was announced.

“I was so excited,” Overbey said. “I kind of knew it was coming because of the trends. I know it is sanctioned now in Missouri and is becoming really popular overall. So it’s about time. I am excited that it’s actually being sponsored and schools are going to be offering girls’ teams.”

Overbey said she would have liked to have the separate division when she was in school. She said she thinks she would have been able to pick up some more wins due to the competition being evenly matched if there were more girls.

She thinks the sport is going to continue to grow as more states adopt it. 

She said it is an attractive sport since the wins and losses are more personal mixed with the team aspect of it with practices.

Overbey got involved with wrestling when she was in fifth grade.

“My younger brother started wrestling,” she said. “And those meets are just long days. It’s a lot of sitting around in a hot gym. So I was tired of being dragged along to wrestling meets for my brother. It looked like fun and pretty easy so I tried it.”

Overbey said she would tell any girls who are considering wrestling to go for it.

“It’s fun,” she said. “It is fun to work hard and the product of your work so clearly. And it is a fun sport to be part of.” 

The biggest tips she has for girls is to not be scared to get sweaty and “disgusting.” 

“Expect to run,” she also said. “For some reason, wrestling has a lot of running associated with it. I would also tell girls to not be freaked out by the wrestling culture of cutting weight. I would tell girls to not worry about that. It is such a small part of the sport, if you choose to cut weight all. It’s not a scary thing. And competing with your weight is not a big thing.”

For those interested in girls’ or boys’ wrestling at Leavenworth, Long invites those interested to come to the open wrestling during the summer.

“This is a good opportunity for first-time wrestlers to try it in a relaxed environment,” Long said.  

The open wrestling sessions are Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer from 6-7:30 p.m. in the wrestling room at Leavenworth High School. Long said the meets are run by Jeff Butler.