By Jane Slaughter
Women's wrestling has grown fast in the past few years. The USGWA national tournament drew 272 girls in 1998, and 432 from 44 states last March. "The caliber's just gone way, way up," says Sarah Van Skaik, a freshman at Cumberland College in Kentucky. "The first year was like nothing. Last year it was about five times better - and this year it's just a whole lot better."
The sport is almost certainly slated for the 2004 Olympics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee is providing training stipends to the top three women wrestlers in each of six weight classes. Two states, Texas and Hawaii, have sanctioned girls' wrestling as a high school sport, and Florida is moving in that direction. Three small colleges, including Cumberland, now give women's wrestling scholarships.
Girl wrestlers have a mixture of feminist and post-feminist consciousness that's quite appealing. Says Katie Downing of the University of Minnesota-Morris team, who took a silver medal in the world championships last year: "A lot of people think that if a girl's out to wrestle, she's on a mission for all womanhood or whatever. I don't think I've ever met a girl who's out to prove a point. It's not about that. All the girls I know that wrestle are there because they love to wrestle." But doesn't she have a sense that it's great to be a pioneer? "That's a definite bonus - to even the playing field as far as women's sports in general," Downing admits. "It opens people's minds a little bit too, the whole idea that men aren't just dominating sports in every field. That's nice too."
Jane Slaughter is a contributing editor of In These Times.