Girls against boys

February 21st, 2011  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  8 Comments

Been getting the link to this story from a few readers.

14-year-old high school wrestler Cassy Herkelman became one of the first two girls to ever qualify for the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament. One of her first opponents, Joel Northrup, a self-described deeply religious student in Herkelman’s 112-lb weight class, defaulted rather than fight her. Herkelman later lost her next two matches.

As one commentator wrote, Herkelman was a serious contender: “She had gone 21-13 this season with eight pins, and in Iowa, that’s no joke. That’s arguably the most competitive state for high school wrestling, and Herkelman reached the state tournament fairly — by finishing second at district.”

The “girls against boys” motif is one that surfaces now and again in discussions of sport. It usually degenerates into male commentators who’ve never gotten on a mat in their lives going on about how they could never fight a girl (which is fine — I mean, really, how can I complain about men not wanting to hit me?), or some straw-people comparison of Imaginary Woman X vs Imaginary Man Y, which somehow stands in for 3 billion people fighting 3 billion other people in an infinite number of monkey-refereed wrestling matches with angels dancing on the head of a pin for the half time show.

Having grappled now for 4-ish years, one of the interesting things about fighting in general is that you never know what is going to happen. You can make general rules — for instance, no matter how skilled I am, my chances against a 300-pounder are grim — but when fighters are more closely matched (as in a weight class), anything can occur. Someone could screw up. Someone could get lucky. Someone could trump skill with brute force, or vice versa. That’s what makes it so exciting.

I once got caught in a lucky armbar by a 13-year-old kid on his second day in class, busting out a move he’d probably seen in the UFC. (One day I’ll go back to that school and whup his pimply ass.) Another day, perhaps, I might have caught him in something. You just never know.

Regardless of your opinions on the matter, I am reminded of an old judo instructor’s advice on this: No matter who you fight (or don’t), it’s your duty to bring them the best fight possible. Winning by default is no win at all. A serious competitor is looking for the best fight possible, and will be grateful for the opportunity to be challenged in a fair and engaging way. Serious competitors and athletes eat challenges for breakfast. They love the tough stuff. Beat them into the mat and they’ll come back for more. The only outcome that truly sucks is not to have the chance at all.

Responses

  1. Kicknknit says:

    February 22nd, 2011at 12:39 pm(#)

    I have been contemplating this for a bit. I have only one comment.. I wonder if the 14 year old boy felt uncomfortable for other reasons.. Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps he didn’t want to embarass himself by having a um.. physical reaction to being so close to a girl.. I mean .. well.. you know what I mean. I’m not trying to demean anyone or suggest anything other than at 14 things are kind of hard to control.

    I’m just wondering if there is more to this story than meets the eye.. or has been suggested to the media.

    Either way, it’s a sucky way to win.

  2. Lillian says:

    February 23rd, 2011at 9:44 am(#)

    I’ve been in some lengthy debates over this, as I live in the upper Midwest and lift with a lot of former wrestlers. The part that befuddles me is that so many of the men I’ve talked to can’t distinguish between violence against women and the aggression and physical contact used in wrestling (between two consenting individuals in the name of sport).

    This raises interesting questions about what boys are being taught. On the one hand it’s great that they find violence against women so repulsive. On the other hand it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the psychological aspect of violence. Are boys (and girls) being taught that it doesn’t take a physical action to abuse or oppress someone?

    Of course there are other questions this situation raises about men and women’s roles in society, etc…but this definition of ‘violence’ has intrigued me the most.

  3. Ron Dykstra says:

    February 23rd, 2011at 1:06 pm(#)

    “3 billion people fighting 3 billion other people in an infinite number of monkey-refereed wrestling matches with angels dancing on the head of a pin for the half time show.”

    I definitely want the Pay Per View rights on this match up.

    :)

  4. Elizabeth says:

    February 23rd, 2011at 6:20 pm(#)

    Kicknknit, I was wondering the same thing. The first story I read about this omitted the “violent sport” quote, so I naturally assumed Northrup and his church were concerned about impure thoughts/behavior.

    Never having been a teenage boy, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine it’s difficult enough to keep one’s composure at times without putting on Spandex and rolling around on top of a girl. If he did feel uncomfortable with the close bodily contact required here, then I think he made the right call.

  5. Zxyrthe says:

    February 25th, 2011at 12:17 pm(#)

    @Elizabeth and Kicknknit,

    Having been a 14 year old boy, I totally understand how that could definitely be a problem.

  6. Lycaea says:

    February 27th, 2011at 10:22 am(#)

    I personally think that experience fighting a girl that gives as good as she gets goes a long way towards attitude on striking females in MA.

    When I started in martial arts the guys (and there being *only* guys!) went easy on me because I was a girl. They didn’t punch or kick me as hard, even in body gear doing line drills. It took a while of me saying “harder!” when they sissyed out on a strike before they’ve come to realize I’m just fine with being kicked. And no, except a few days a month, getting hit in the chest does *not* hurt me. Not that I tell them that…

    In my case, one of the reasons getting gone easy on is bad because as part of my job there is a very real chance I might get physically attacked. And these people are *not* going to care I’m female.

  7. David says:

    March 6th, 2011at 4:48 pm(#)

    I think one way we could look at this article would be to consider the likely responses of parents if told their daughters would have to participate in coed wrestling classes.

    There are also issues regards some of the more uncompromising positions these wrestlers seem to find themselves in… especially in spandex and in public.

    Now if this was kick-boxing or any of the non-grappling martial arts then I can see no issue at all, but ultimately wrestling involves a level of intimacy that most people would find very uncomfortable.

    Another obvious option would be to have three events in the competition (male only, female only and mixed) that way all aspiring wrestlers could participate in an event they felt comfortable with.

  8. kck says:

    March 8th, 2011at 2:18 pm(#)

    David, I have to disagree with you there. First: it’s not a class, it’s a voluntary after-school sports activity. Second: although many parents don’t see it this way, I think that if a girl wants to participate in a sport, her parents shouldn’t hold her back because it’s “unladylike” or because there are “compromising positions” involved. Many sports that are widely accepted as appropriate for young ladies involve having one’s body touched in public and in spandex. Gymnastics, cheerleading, and figure skating come to mind immediately. It’s not parents’ place to protect a girl’s modesty (it’s their job to teach her how to do it herself, if one accepts that it’s a valuable goal at all), and it’s certainly not their place to enforce gender role conformity by restricting a girl’s athletic activities.
    Lastly, when you say “wrestling involves a level of intimacy that most people would find very uncomfortable,” you’re making a lot of assumptions about people you don’t know. The girl in question has probably been practicing wrestling with male teammates for some time now and is none the worse for wear. Several readers of this blog are female practitioners of Brazilian Jiujiutsu and have direct experience grappling in mixed-gender environments. I’m one, and in my experience, even teenage boys can get over themselves when they are required to concentrate on competing. It basically requires your full attention.


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