Girls high school wrestling could become reality in NJ this year
ATLANTIC CITY — For high school wrestlers in New Jersey there is no greater goal than making it to Boardwalk Hall for the individual state wrestling tournament. When the 2019 tournament kicks off next year it could mark the first time female wrestlers experience the rush of competing on the state's biggest stage.
For the past month, discussions have accelerated regarding the possibility of girls wrestling becoming its own sanctioned sport in the state, and having that process start with an individual state tournament.
Bill Bruno, assistant director for the NJSIAA, said the idea of girls wrestling has been floated for a while but really only started to gain momentum last month during a clinic at Princeton University.
Bruno said last year there were 128 girls wrestling in the state. The goal, he said, would be to see that number grow with the addition of the state tournament, and eventually having girls wrestling as its own sport.
"We're hoping to stimulate enough interest in the girls so the girls have a new sport to look forward to, I would hope within the next five years," he said.
The Red Bank Regional team had four girls wrestling at the junior varsity level this season, and athletic director Del Dal Pra said he sees that number only continuing to grow. Dal Pra said he can see girls wrestling progressing in a similar way to how girls ice hockey developed in the state. First with a few girls on the boys teams, then getting to the point where there are now girls hockey leagues and a state tournament for the sport.
"Just knowing that we have such a strong New Jersey wrestling community, I've got a feeling that this is going to kind of go like that," he said.
Princeton University wrestling coach Chris Ayres, who was one of the first people involved in the most recent discussions, said in the past year alone the number of states sanctioning girls wrestling has jumped from seven to 12.
Ayres said for him the plan is somewhat personal because his daughter wrestles, but it's something he is excited to see grow on a much larger scale as well.
"What we're seeing is just an incredible increase of popularity of the sport," he said. "There's really a lot of momentum behind the sport."
Bruno said the committee working to bring the plan to fruition will meet again in August before bringing their proposal to the NJSIAA executive board in September for a first reading. A second reading could come as soon as October, meaning the girls tournament could be held for the 2018-19 season. Girls would then compete in a regional tournament at the same time as their male counterparts with the winners qualifying to advance to the state championship in Atlantic City.