Chris Ayres is the head wrestling coach at Princeton University. He’s practicing with his daughter Chloe who’s on the varsity wrestling team at her high school.
“We have about 15 people on the team, so luckily for me, we don’t have a lot of people available so I got to have a varsity spot to wrestle but a lot of girls don’t have that opportunity,” Chloe said.
She practices with fellow teammate Jasmine Aizley. They’re the only two girls on the team.
“Every single day I’d pass the sign-up sheet on a wall, and I was like, ‘why not?’ so I just put my name down,” Jasmine said.
They say they feel included by their teammates, but that’s not the case everywhere.
“I’ve actually had some pretty negative reactions before where there’s laughing. People have actually refused to wrestle me, so I’ll go out on the mat and they won’t come out,” Chloe said.
“Even sometimes coaches will say, you’re not wrestling that girl, just because of our gender which I don’t think is that fair,” Jasmine said.
Both these girls have a passion for the sport so they have never seen quitting as an option. Chloe’s dad says it’s hard to watch as a parent.
“Wrestling with the boys, it takes a lot of courage to go out there. A lot more than most people have, so I think a lot of girls aren’t coming out,” Chris said.
On top of that, there are other considerations.
“If you’re a girl there’s not a lot of opportunity to go to higher levels for wrestling in high school because the boys are going to be bigger and stronger,” Chloe said.
“Even at the same weight it’s like not the most fair thing,” Jasmine added.
Those are some of the reasons why the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, or NJSIAA, wants to establish the first state tournament for girl wrestlers.
Across the country there are already 12 states that have sanctioned girls wrestling. Six of them were established this year.
“Women don’t compete against men in college and women don’t compete against men in the world venue, so it just made sense. It wasn’t fair that we were forcing our girls to compete against the boys,” said Eileen Bowker, a member of the NJSIAA wrestling committee.
The demand seems to be there. Since 1994, the number of girl wrestlers across the country has gone up from 804 to over 14,000.
“New Jersey is one of the top 3 wrestling states,” Chris said. “We’re one of the best. It’s one of the most popular sports. We’re top 3. Texas, on the other hand, it’s not that popular of a sport but the fact that they started a women’s tournament over 10 years ago, the numbers don’t even compare. They have over 4,000 women who wrestle at high school where we have 126 right now.”
Chris says he’s been wrestling his whole life and he wants his daughter to have the same opportunities because he knows what it will teach her.
“Wrestling really instills a lot of great values. I don’t think I would have went to college had I not been a wrestler. It kept me motivated, it kept me disciplined,” he said.
The assistant director of NJSIAA hopes by creating a state tournament for girls, it will inspire school districts to build their own programs as a separate sport.
“Right now in track and field, in cross-country, we have more girls competing than boys. I’d like to be able to say that in five or 10 years about wrestling,” said Bill Bruno, an assistant director at the NJSIAA.
If it passes, the tournament could be in 2019.