With 100 schools' approval, effort hopes to make girls wrestling sanctioned sport in Pa.

"If we can give more kids more opportunities, that's what high school is all about," said the Penn Delco Athletic Director.

Katherine Scott Image
Thursday, March 2, 2023
Effort hopes to make girls wrestling sanctioned sport in Pa.
There is an effort in Pennsylvania to make girls wrestling a sanctioned sport.

ASTON, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Eighth-grader Jameson Strickland is one of the four girls on the boys' Northley Middle School wrestling team in Aston, Delaware County.

Strickland started wrestling when she was 7 years old and was often the only girl competing.

"My older brothers both wrestled, and I would just watch them because I didn't have anything else to do because I couldn't stay home alone," Strickland explained.

Jameson is among the growing number of girls taking part in the sport.

Strickland took home wins in the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling tournament last year and twice in the Keystone States.

"Women's wrestling is the fastest growing sport in America," stated Tom Ellis, head wrestling coach at Sun Valley High School.

Ellis' own daughter started the sport at the age of 5.

In January, Sun Valley was the 95th school in Pennsylvania to approve girls wrestling as a sponsored sport.

"It was important for us to get in there under the first 100 to not only show the state but the community here, Delaware County as well, that this is an important thing for our girls and for the rest of the programs in the area," said Pat Rafferty, Penn Delco Athletic Director.

Nonprofit Sanction PA has been pushing for girls wrestling to be approved as a sanctioned sport in Pennsylvania.

"It's a great opportunity for more girls to start wrestling and mainly grow the sport," said Strickland.

In February, Pennridge High School became the 100th Pennsylvania school to add a girls' wrestling team, which meets the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's threshold to consider the sport for sanctioning.

"If it does become sanctioned, [Jameson Strickland will] have a chance to become state champion for her high school," said Rafferty.

"I would love to make it to the states in Hershey just like the boys do," said Strickland.

According to Sanction PA, national data shows girls will wrestle if they know they are welcomed, indicating that having no girls could be more a reflection of opportunity than interest.

"Once one girl does it, it's kind of the snowball effect, other girls see it," said Ellis. "It's really I think just a shift in the culture, that it's OK to be tough."

Adding girls wrestling boosts winter sports offerings and also increases scholarship and college opportunities. Strickland herself plans to wrestle in college.

From a budgetary perspective, girls and boys can practice together and be coached by the same coaches, though Rafferty hopes to see this program outgrow that structure and budget.

"The hope is that in a few years though, that would be great, that would be a good problem to have, if we could have a full program and a full group of girls," Rafferty said.

"If we can give more kids more opportunities, that's what high school is all about," concluded Rafferty.

The hope is that the PIAA vote to sanction takes place this spring.