homepage logo

Losing Focus

By Staff | Feb 22, 2011

The 2011 Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament is history in more ways than one. While each of the champions in the three weight classes set a little piece of history, some more history was made last Thursday morning, when the two young women who qualified for the state tournament appeared on the mats at Wells Fargo Arena.

For you purists, this was the first time females ever qualified to wrestle in the state tournament in its 85 year history. While girls have wrestled off and on for a few years, none had ever earned the trip to the eight mats of the state tournament until this year.

This new chapter in history started during Cassy Herkelman’s match. At that time, two entries in the history of the state wrestling tournament were made firstly, that a female won a match at the state tourney, and secondly, a young man was booed by “fans” for sticking to his religious beliefs and convictions and following his conscience in defaulting the match he was scheduled to wrestle against Herkelman.

I happened to be mat side during this moment of history, simply by chance. The media frenzy of television and larger newspapers jockeying for positions along the mat to record this moment in time and history was almost embarrassing to be associated with. But, as I watched Joel Northrup turn and leave the mat after defaulting, a chorus of boos floated over the arena, even carrying over the cheers for other matches that were taking place.

Hearing the booing really troubled me.

In the history of our country, one of the tenants of our founding fathers was the fact that we wanted freedom of speech and expression, freedom of choice and, oh, did we forget about freedom of religion and freedom from religious persecution?

For just a moment, put yourself in the shoes of Joel Northrup on Thursday morning. He reported to his mat, knowing whom his opponent was. His personal belief, in accordance with his religion, made his choice clear for him. He followed his heart, and because he did, he was booed.

Now, he walked from the mat. He heard the booing. How do you think he felt, hearing that? I know how I felt almost ashamed to admit that people could be so thoughtless and self-centered. Does the word “respect” not apply to this situation any more?

I fully realize that there are those who will counter my thoughts by saying that young Mr. Northrup dis-respected the sport of wrestling by refusing to wrestle Cassy Herkelman because she is a girl. I understand your logic, but I also understand that a young person, maybe 15, 16 years old, has tasted a form of discrimination and prejudice while pursuing a sport he obviously loves But wait a second that also applies to both Cassy Herekelman and Megan Brown, the other female qualifier from Ottumwa who wrestled Thursday morning and lost both her matches.

A lot of wrestling purists decry allowing the young ladies to wrestle “They’ll get hurt” or “They shouldn’t be wrestling with boys, it’s not right!”

The state’s athletic regulations allow for young women to compete in any sport in which there is no equivalent sport offered for girls i.e.: football and wrestling. Now, there have been some girls who have played football at the high school level in Iowa, as memory serves, as a kicker. There were negative comments about that, but that’s about it.

And, as I was reminded, there are some cheerleading squads, albeit drill or dance teams, that have male members that have competed in the annual state competitions. I don’t hear anyone raising a ruckus or booing those young men in what most consider a “girls’ sport.”

I applaud both those young women for working hard and being able to qualify for the state tournament. I applaud any young person who is willing to make the sacrifice to be the best that they can be, and if I can help them succeed in some way, I’ll gladly offer my help.

And to those who proclaim that such efforts are merely “grandstanding” or some such line, I would remind them of the words from a classic story: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”