The first girls wrestling state tournament will take place Saturday in McPherson.
At least that’s what McPherson coach Doug Kretzer is calling it, because girls wrestling is not sanctioned as a sport by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
Kretzer isn’t waiting for Kansas to become the eighth state to introduce girls wrestling as its own sport; he’s making his own tournament and inviting girls from around the state to compete. According to Kretzer, there will be more than 50 wrestlers from 36 schools in 11 weight classes.
“We are trying to get all of the girls in the state to participate and I know at least my girls are taking this tournament very serious,” Kretzer said. “They are considering this the unofficial state tournament and they all want a piece of this thing.”
For a sport to be sanctioned, the KSHSAA requires that a minimum of 24 teams established from member schools compete during the regular season before the Board of Directors consider a postseason tournament. According to a KSHSAA survey, a total of 112 girls at 60 schools are participating in wrestling this season.
Although there will be 36 schools competing Saturday, the majority are bringing one or two girls.
“Right now, obviously yes, there is momentum, but are the numbers there right now? I don’t know about that,” said Mark Lentz, the KSHSAA assistant director in charge of wrestling. “It takes a minimum of 24 and the big word there is ‘established’ teams to have the chance of being recognized for a state championship through the state activities association. We’ll continue to look at it, but there’s no guarantees.”
Kretzer argues that the substantial growth that the KSHSAA is likely looking for is unlikely without girls wrestling first being sanctioned.
He has tried to increase the opportunities for girls — Saturday’s tournament will be the fourth all-girls tournament in Kansas this season — but they are still minimal. Mya Kretzer, a sophomore wrestler at McPherson, said McPherson’s girls wrestling team has grown from three to 12 this season because of the opportunity for girls to wrestle their own gender.
“Girls talk to me all the time saying they want to wrestle, but they just don’t want to wrestle boys,” she said. “That’s been the whisper all around the high school before this season. So I just told them come out and you can just wrestle against (girls). Once they realized that, more started coming out.”
“You cannot understate the amount of guts it takes for these girls to simply step on the mat, let alone even think that they have a chance to win against the boys,” Doug Kretzer added. “Now if you give them an opportunity to wrestle against their own gender, they will blossom. I’ve seen it with my own girls and I will bet you it will happen everywhere.”
Kretzer says if girls wrestling was sanctioned, it could use the same coaches, the same facilities, and go to the same tournament sites as boys, so the financial costs would be minimal.
He sees the need for top-notch girls wrestlers from the area, such as his daughter, Garden Plain’s Mercedes Gassman, and Clearwater’s Lyric Gonsalves to be recognized — and on Saturday, they will.
But if it’s ever going to come in front of the massive crowds at Hartman Arena, Salina’s Bicentennial Center, or Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays, then it’s going to take more than just a few girls at schools to make a difference.
“We can’t just have 30 teams bringing one or two girls; we need them to bring 5 or 10 girls,” Doug Kretzer said. “We want there to actually be girls teams, not just having one or two girls on your team. I think the numbers are there, but schools have got to start recruiting and make it important to them to have girls wrestling. We need to treat these girls the same as we do girls basketball or girls volleyball players. They’re just as committed and hungry and talented, we just need to give them a chance and a platform to succeed.”