Doug Kretzer had a vision for his family.
“I thought my three sons would wrestle, and she (his daughter) would be the manager, and we’d just be this tight wrestling family,” Kretzer said. “But that’s not the vision she had.”
When his daughter, Mya, was in middle school, she came to her dad with what he believed was a bad idea. She wanted to wrestle. She was going to have to wrestle the boys, so Doug pushed back.
Eventually, though, he caved. And now, in large part because of Mya’s success on the mat and her dad’s unending push to grow awareness of girls high school wrestling, it could become the 23rd state-sponsored sport in Kansas.
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The Kansas State High School Activities Association’s executive board will meet April 25-26 and vote on whether to create girls wrestling’s own official championship and high school division, with separate weight classes and state champions.
The Kretzers and McPherson High School started campaigning for girls wrestling in Kansas about eight years ago, Doug said.
“It was calculated from the top down to be the tip of the spear and prove to the state and all of the other coaches, teams, administrators that if you put the effort forth and make girls wrestling important, girls will show up,” Doug said.
Mya, a McPherson senior, fills into the boys lineup when needed at 120 pounds, which can be brutal on her body, she said. Last year she cut weight from 127 pounds to 106.
She said she since promised herself she would never do that to her body again.
Bringing recognition to girls wrestling has been a long and admittedly frustrating process that she believes is about to pay off.
“I think it’s time,” she said. “It sucks for the senior girls this year because they’re not going to be able to win a state title this year.”
In 2017, 112 girls wrestled in Kansas high schools. There were four independently run, female-only events to showcase them. Two years later, participation has grown more than 235 percent. And there have already been 15 events this season.
Six months ago, just six states offered sanctioned girls wrestling. Since then, eight more have joined, including Colorado and Missouri.
Since Missouri created its girls wrestling division, participation has grown from 112 wrestlers to 866.
On Saturday, McPherson will host the third annual unofficial Kansas high school girls wrestling state championship tournament.
Banners won’t be raised, and KSHSAA won’t recognize the state champions. But Doug Kretzer said some of the top wrestlers in the U.S., including his daughter, will be there.
Kansas has five girls ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes nationwide, according to FloWrestling. Mya is No. 9 at 127 pounds.
Junction City’s Elisa Robinson will compete on Saturday. She is currently ranked No. 2 in the country at 180 pounds. And Nickerson’s Nichole Moore is eighth at 106.
But few people know about them because the girls aren’t competing for anything other than a memory, Mya said.
“When you talk to wrestler, they will talk at length adamantly and passionately about what the sport did for them when they were in that transition stage, going from a boy to a man,” Doug said. “Those life lessons are just too good to not share with the female gender.
“I’ve got a daughter and three sons, and she definitely deserves those same life lessons her brothers got.”
Mya said she used to go to tournaments just to show her face as a representative of girls wrestling. But there was often no payoff, Doug said.
“They go to practice and get the living hell beat out of them for four months, for what? Just to say I’m on the team?” he said. “These soccer players, softball players, they are striving for state recognition and to become a Division I athlete.
“They would be crazy to come out and wrestle right now, and these 370 girls who are doing it in Kansas right now are crazy. I cannot stress enough how remarkable these girls — these trailblazers — are, that are given no guarantee to even step out onto the mat on a Thursday night.”
McPherson’s girls team has grown from four to 20 wrestlers, Doug said. The girls have to cut weight to qualify for the boys tournaments and often never get a bout after training and traveling, he said.
Mya, who will wrestle for the Baker University girls team after graduation, said she knows someone has to pave the way now so others can take part in the future.
“It’s a lot of pressure on myself, and a lot of people look up to me, and a lot of people ask me for my opinions on things,” she said. “I don’t want to make the wrong remark, but I’m glad that it’s me. I wouldn’t want anybody else to have this kind of pressure, and I have the kind of support system that helps me be able to take it on every day.”
At the Fredonia Invitational, one of the 15 events with designated girls brackets, Kretzer swept the field with three pins, two coming in the first period.
After she won the 126-pound bracket, she was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. The award was given to one of the 224 combined boys and girls at the meet. She said that was one of her top high school memories.
She hopes to make another one Saturday as the Bullpups look to defend their unofficial state championship.
After that, the next box to check will be removing the “un” from unofficial.
“It’s almost impossible for me to take my coach hat off and look at it from any other perspective, because it’s the right thing to do for all of these girls,” Doug said. “My daughter, I’m proud of her, but it’s bigger than her. It’s bigger than me.
“These girls, I love them to death. They’re everything that you’re trying to be when you say you want to be a wrestler. They are wrestlers.”