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Women’s high school wrestling continues growth with CIF Regional Tournaments

The state of California has long been a leader in the development of wrestling opportunities for women and girls. The 1st annual CIF Girls Wrestling Regional Tournaments, held in two sites during the weekend of January 20-21, continues this tradition of expansion for women's wrestling.

This year, the CIF approved two official Regional Tournaments for girls, the Northern California Regional which is set for Whitney High School in Rocklin and the Southern California Regional, to be held at South Hills High School in West Covina. Hundreds of high school girl wrestlers from all over California will come together to test themselves against the best female wrestlers in their region in an official state-sanctioned competition. It marks a big step forward for the sport in the state that features the most wrestlers in the entire nation.

Girls wrestling? Where did that come from? For those not familiar with wrestling, or who have not been involved in recent years, this might sound a bit unbelievable. However, for many people in the state of California, and across the nation, these tournaments have been a long time coming.

Did you know that women's wrestling is now included in the Olympic Games? Did you know that there are colleges that sponsor women's wrestling as a varsity sport and offer athletic scholarships? Did you know that the United States is one of the most successful women's wrestling nations in the entire world? The state of California has played a key role in these milestones for the sport.

You can trace the growth of the women's wrestling in the United States to the late 1980's, when FILA, the international wrestling federation, started hosting women's freestyle wrestling meets. The first World Championships for women was held in 1987. The United States first sent a team to this competition in 1989, and word got out in our nation that women were now part of wrestling.

If you look at high school wrestling statistics, the number of girls wrestling was only a few dozen in the early 1990s. However, each year, more and more girls went out for wrestling, competing on the boys teams in their schools. At the same time. USA Wrestling was running more competitions for girls on many age levels, and the U.S. athletes who competed at the World Championships were winning medals against foreign competitors.

If you check the record books, some of the early stars in women's wrestling were from California. One of the best women wrestlers to compete in the early years was Shannon Williams, who won four World silver medals. She is the daughter of a wrestling coach, and wrestled for Chaffey High School in Ontario, Calif., then went on to Chico State. Shannon is now coaching female wrestlers in California, and a popular high school girls tournament is held in her honor, the Williams Cup.

A pair of other Californians won two World medals for the USA. Afsoon Roshanzamir, who wrestled for Independence High School in San Jose, then competed at Cal-State Davis, was an early success, as was Marie Ziegler, who wrestled for Ygnacio Valley High School in Walnut Creek, and went on to Diablo Valley College. Another early World Team member was Sheri Belew-Kennedy, who went to Turlock High School. California athletes helped get the ball rolling for the sport in our nation. These athletes competed against other women, and were true pioneers for wrestling.

As girls wrestling grew, the number of girls from California continued to rise. Many of the good California athletes won USA Wrestling age-group titles and competed on the national level in international freestyle wrestling. There also became a series of state and national competitions for girls in the scholastic "folkstyle" from an organization called the USGWA, and California was also very successful in those meets.

There were two states that took a radical step forward in the late 1990s to provide an all-girls wrestling opportunity on the high school level. Hawaii and Texas started girls wrestling programs, and developed an official girls state championships in high school. In those states, high schools started all-girl wrestling teams, and the number of young female wrestlers there grew very quickly.

California did not start an official high school tournament, although many were asking for that opportunity. Coaches within the state found that more and more girls were joining wrestling. Many tournaments just for girl high school wrestlers were started, to provide them with matches against other girls. Some girls were able to make their varsity boys teams, but these all-girl events gave competition to the others. Some high schools in the state had so many girls joining that they created entire girls-only squads.

On the college level, for a few years in the 1990's, Cal-State Bakersfield had a number of girls on their men's team who wrestled at the major national women's events. During that time, a handful of schools around the country started women's wrestling teams on the varsity level. Two schools in California, Menlo College in Atherton and Lassen College in Susanville, created women's varsity teams to provide opportunity to the growing number of girls in the sport.

Meanwhile, on the international level, in 2001, the International Olympic Committee announced that women's freestyle wrestling was going to be added as an official sport at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. There were going to be four weight classes contested in Athens, and women around the world were very excited to compete for Olympic medals.

The first U.S. Olympic women's wrestling team was formed at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. A Californian, Patricia Miranda, made that historic team. Miranda wrestled on the Saratoga High School team, then went to Stanford Univ., where she was on the men's team there. Miranda wrestled a number of varsity matches for Stanford as a senior. At the Athens Olympics, Miranda, wrestling at 105.5 pounds, won an Olympic bronze medal for the United States, the first medal ever awarded to a woman wrestler.

So, what is going on with women's wrestling in the nation now?

* In 2004-05, there were 4,334 girls competing in wrestling on the high school level. This total has increased every year since 1990. This actual number is much higher, as some states that have women competitors do not report them.

* According to high school statistics, there were 1,230 girls wrestling in California, the most of any state. That means one in every four high school girls who are reported as wrestlers live in California.

* State sanctioned high school championships for girls are held in Hawaii and Texas. California has state sanctioned regional tournaments starting this year. Washington hosts a girls wrestling tournament alongside its boys state championships each year. Other states are considering adding girls opportunities.

* USA Wrestling sponsors a Women's Team USA program, which provides financial bonuses and training support. USA Wrestling has a Women's Sports Committee and an ad-hoc Women's Development Committee. USA Wrestling employs two full-time women's wrestling coaches. One of these coaches was a high school wrestling coach for 10 years in California, Vlad "Izzy" Izboinikov of Yucca Valley.

* The U.S. won the World Team title in women's wrestling in 1999, placed second in the world in 2003 and third in the world in 2005.

* There are six varsity wrestling programs in American colleges, and over 15 varsity teams in Canada. These teams compete against each other, and many of the athletes go on to be contenders for Olympic teams in their nation.

* More and more young girls are joining wrestling clubs around the nation as the sport is getting more acceptance and respect.

Many of the girls who are wrestling in the CIF Regional Tournaments this year may go on to careers in college and on the Olympic level. Good luck to all of the participants. California continues to lead the way in the growth of women's wrestling.

Editor's note: This article will appear in the event programs at the CIF Regional Tournaments, and is reprinted here with permission from the CIF
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