Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cassy Herkelman Wins by Forfeit, Draws the Ire of Internet Commenters

Last week, Cassy Herkelman of Cedar Falls, Iowa became the first girl to qualify for the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament. (Moments later a second girl, Maegan Black, qualified. Wrestling in Iowa is like basketball in Indiana or hockey in Minnesota; qualifying for the state tournament is a big deal for any wrestler.) Today, Herkelman became the first girl to win a match in the state tournament when her opponent refused to wrestle her on religious grounds.

If this story sounds familiar, it was the plot of an episode of Zoey 101.

I read a couple articles about this story, and in both cases I made the mistake of reading the comments. People argued that girls shouldn't be allowed to wrestle boys or wrestle at all, that Herkelman was putting herself in danger; they made unflattering assumptions about Herkelman's appearance (the ESPN article doesn't include a picture); some worried that a teenage boy might become aroused while wrestling a girl; some suggested that a boy wrestling a girl was no different than a man assaulting a woman (which our society otherwise frowns upon).

I've done a little reading up on this story, and there are a few things that these commenters—and popular Calvinist theologian John Piper, who wrote this 2009 tirade against female wrestlers—need to know/understand/keep in mind:

  • Cassy Herkelman has a record of 20-13, against boys, and she qualified for the state tournament as a freshman wrestling varsity. She's obviously a well-conditioned athlete who holds her own against boys in her weight class. I wouldn't worry too much about her safety.

  • While wrestling is a contact sport in which competing athletes attempt to dominate one another physically, it is still a sport. It has rules and regulations and officials. No one should mistake a wrestling match between a girl and boy for boy-on-girl violence.

  • Wrestling is a growing sport among girls. Apparently, in the off-season, Herkelman wrestles other girls and has won several AAU state and national titles. A few states sanction girls wrestling as an interscholastic sport. Iowa does not. If Herkelman wants to wrestle for her school, she has to wrestle boys. This sort of thing works both ways. For instance, several boys in New England have played for girls' field hockey teams. (Here is one example.) Like the girl wrestlers, they've attracted their share of critics. So there's no double standard. In this era of budget cuts when few schools have any desire to invest in a girls' wrestling team or a boys' volleyball team, maybe coed competition will become more commonplace. Or maybe everyone will end up playing korfball.


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