Glass Ceiling Begins to Shatter in Wrestling

Five female high school wrestlers

Members of the Lincoln High School wrestling team pose after a recent practice.

Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler in his younger days, before he took to the more refined but no less primal arenas of debate and politics. So it’s fitting that the local high school that bears his name is at the center of an emerging trend in the sport.

Last year 66 young women registered to wrestle in Iowa high schools. This year there are 85, a 29% increase. There is at least one in 23 out of the 24 districts covering 1A, 2A and 3A throughout the state.

Iowa does not currently sanction girls wrestling at the high school level, leaving those interested in wrestling no choice but to do so against boys.

“We have reached a point in Iowa where sanctioning girls’ wrestling should be a major topic of discussion at the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU),” wrote Matt Watters of IA Wrestle in a preview of this year’s high school season. “The participation numbers, rate of growth, and active support among coaches, officials, and administrators point to the need for sanctioning. The assumption can also be made that the numbers would increase exponentially given the opportunity for girls to wrestle other girls.”

Class 3A includes 37 of the 66 girl grapplers. Eight of them are DMPS students and five of those eight are from Lincoln. Two go to East and the other to Roosevelt.

The Lincoln quintet is part of a wrestling renaissance at their school under the direction of 4th year coach Dustin Roland, LHS Class of ’99.

When Roland succeeded Mike McGivern, who coached him to a 3rd place medal at the state tournament as a senior (where he beat future UFC welterweight champ Robbie Lawler) the proud wrestling tradition at Lincoln was at a low ebb. In Roland’s first year there were only 16 kids in the program. This year there are almost 50, three times as many, including five who don’t look the part – until you watch them play it.

Three of the girls have brothers on the team. Junior Jolynn Harris is in her third year of wrestling and she and her sophomore brother John take sibling rivalry to a new level, sometimes competing at the same weight class.

“Last year they had a wrestle-off for a varsity spot,” Roland recalled. “The wrestling room was packed and the match was tough and close. John barely beat Jolynn but the atmosphere in here was awesome.”

Roland says none of the guys on the team, brothers or not, have any problem with female teammates.

“Eventually, if enough girls want it, I suppose it would be ideal for them to have their own sport,” he said. “But in the meantime I can tell you that we have literally had zero incidents or problems with our girls.”

Jolynn won her first three JV matches this year. Annastacia won one by default recently when her opponent refused to take the mat against her.

“That’s his problem,” she said. “We just want a fair chance to try and prove ourselves against the boys.”

All five have had their arms hoisted in victory at some point this season.

Chloe is a diver on the girls’ swimming team, like Jolynn who seemingly does it all at Lincoln. Besides finishing 5th and 4th in diving at the last two state meets, she plays tuba and trombone in school band ensembles, participates in tumbling/gymnastics, runs track and has even dabbled in football.

“I like to compete and be active,” she said with a smile made menacing by the remnants of a shiner she didn’t get playing tuba or trombone. So she takes every opportunity. She was in 8th grade when the district placed an emphasis on beefing up middle school wrestling to feed high school programs where participation was on the decline.

“She came to the tryouts and was tossing boys around,” said Roland, who teaches at McCombs Middle School in addition to his coaching duties at Lincoln. “I remember thinking that we definitely found a wrestler but she might have convinced four others to give it up.”

At practice sophomore Annastacia and freshman Chloe, whose brothers Jay and Chase, respectively, are Lincoln wrestlers too, pair off in drills to practice takedowns and escapes. So do senior January Paw and senior Eh Ku Ku, who are listed at the same weight, 132. Both of them came to America from Myanmar. Jolynn, naturally, squares off with – guess who?

In a JV meet Thursday night at the Lincoln Roundhouse the opponent was East. Four of the Lincoln girls took the mat and all of them were pinned. But they all got up and they’ll all be back in the wrestling room. And hey, two of them, Annastacia at 113 and Chloe at 120, took on sophomore Brittany Ferrell-Harris, one of two girl grapplers for the Scarlets (sophomore Aziza Bell is the other and junior Grace Massier competes at Roosevelt), so their personal defeats did not damage their gender’s cause. Brittany, according to her coach, James Giboo, is a veteran in the program at East, having also come through the middle school feeder program. He describes Aziza as a beginner.

Jolynn was out with an injury – but that didn’t stop her from singing the National Anthem in a duet with her brother before the varsity meet. She always finds some way to be involved.

Nobody told the girls wrestling would be easy. And none of them asked if it could be.

Photos of Lincoln’s Wrestlers in Action

Photos of Lincoln’s Wrestlers in Action

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