Team Wrestling

Girls Take Over the Mats


Team dealers pay attention: Girls’ wrestling is taking over the mats in America, according to Chad Clark, senior VP at Cliff Keen Athletic. In fact, Clark predicts that girls’ wrestling is poised for another eye-opening year of growth. “Girls’ wrestling is still very much on the rise, absolutely,” he says. “We are forecasting another healthy increase this season for girls’ wrestling product.”

According to Clark, sales of girls’ wrestling apparel is the best barometer for measuring the health and state of the sport.  “While there are some regions of the country that are hotter than others right now, we’re seeing demand increasing for women’s uniforms, of course, and workout/training gear in girls’ fits,” says Clark.

The numbers certainly back up Clark’s contention. In the recently released NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, one of the biggest increases in participation for boys and girls was in the sport of wrestling.

• Boys wrestling jumped 10 percent, adding 25,000 participants, to more than 256,000 — the largest total since 258,208 in 2014-15.

• But the increase in girls’ wrestling was even larger, with 17,473 additional participants – a massive 55 percent increase from 2021-22 – to reach a record total of 49,127. Just 10 years ago, there were fewer than 10,000 girls in high school wrestling. In addition, 36 states now offer separate state wrestling championships for girls.

“High school wrestling is experiencing a resurgence,” reports Elliot Hopkins,  director of sports, sanctioning and student services for the NFHS. “Because of rule changes and the addition of young women joining our ranks, it is creating more opportunities exponentially.”

According to Hopkins, girls’ high school wrestling is enjoyed competitively in 46 out of the 51 NFHS state associations and there are now more than 50,000 participants at more than 4800 high schools — and those numbers keep increasing every year.

Those numbers help girls’ wrestling lay claim as one of the fastest-growing sports in high school.

“We are wildly enthusiastic about the growth of girls’ wrestling and all that growth brings with it,” adds Hopkins. “That increase of girls translates to more equipment, uniforms, mats and other much-needed gear.

The historic numbers do tell the story of the important growth of girls’ wrestling:

•  In 2012, there were 8235 participants. By 2018, that number had more than doubled to 16,562. Two years later, in 2020, the number of girls’ high school wrestlers was up to 28,447.  

• Now, in the 2023 season there were 52,406 girls wrestling at the high school level in the U.S.

• From 1998-2018, there were only six states that conducted an official high school wrestling championship for girls. As of August 2023, there were 43 states conducting a high school wrestling championship for girls.

Need proof that interest in girls’ high school wrestling is not slowing down? Just look at two states that are now supporting girls’ high school wrestling — Alabama and West Virginia. During its July meeting, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) Central Board voted to sanction girls’ wrestling as a championship sport beginning with the 2024-25 and 2025-26 classification periods.

“This is great news for our girl student-athletes,” says AHSAA executive director Alvin Briggs, who reports that 76 high schools in the state are sponsoring the sport for the current school year.

Likewise, girls’ high school wrestling in West Virginia has taken a big step forward.  The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) will hold its first-ever Girls’ Wrestling Invitational Tournament in Huntington, WV, next spring during the annual High School State Wrestling Championships.  

The growth in women’s wrestling has reached all the way up to the collegiate ranks as well. Back in 2001, according to the website, there were only five college programs with a women’s varsity wrestling team. In 2009, there were 10 and in 2023 there are now more than 130.

Team dealers are certainly enjoying the growth of a new sport — and the new business it is bringing with it.

“Girls’ wrestling has gone off the charts here in Indiana,” reports Doc Claussen, general manager at Coaches Corner in Terre Haute. “It is now a revenue sport as people are paying to come watch the girls wrestle.” Indeed, he points out, the high school state wrestling finals in Indianapolis are now outdrawing the boys’ basketball state finals.

Claussen can speak first-hand about wrestling’s growth since he sells the merchandise to the wrestling community and is an approved official for the sport. “This will be my 26th year as a wrestling official,” adds Claussen. “I love the sport.”

Another dealer in Indiana enjoying the growth of girls’ wrestling is E. I. Sports & Apparel, based in Evansville.

“We sell girls’ wrestling throughout the state of Indiana and in parts of Kentucky and Illinois,” reports Nolan Schaeffer, a team salesman for E. I. Sports, who sees a big difference between selling wrestling to girls as opposed to boys.

“With girls, we have to get the fit right,” says Schaeffer. Specifically, there has to be a higher cut on the armpit.

For another perspective, let’s go to Iowa, where people are as passionate about wrestling as Texans are about football. There, girls’ high school wrestling was quite popular during the 2022/23 wrestling season and it’s expected to gain in during the upcoming season. As a result, Iowa Sports Supply president Jake Koch will be busy selling and delivering girls’ products.

“In Iowa, wrestling is very popular, whether it’s boys or girls,” says Koch, adding that more high schools are starting and supporting girls’ wrestling in the state.

In many respects, selling wrestling product to girls is similar to selling to boys, as the demand is virtually identical.

“Girls who wrestle are ordering either the singlets or they are wearing fight shorts with a fight shirt,” says Koch.

One wrestling item that Iowa Sports Supply doesn’t sell is footwear. “We don’t stock and sell footwear for wrestling because it’s difficult to predict and buy,” says Koch.

In Texas, wrestling is “great business” for Dan Carey, owner of Carey’s Sporting Goods in Fort Worth, who says his wrestling business will improve as more females in Texas high schools enter the sport.

And out West, MVP Sports, in Spanish Fork, UT, has carved out a respectable business in girls’ wrestling. “We do custom singlets and head gear,” reports sales rep Heather Groves. “It’s fun to see the growth of women’s wrestling.”

Joan Fulp (left) with Andrea Yamamoto, co-chairs of the USA Wrestling Girls’ High School Development Committee.  

To the Mat With Joan Fulp

One of the people instrumental in the rise of girls’ wrestling in the U.S. is Joan Fulp, who serves as the second VP of the National Wrestling Coaches Association Board of Directors and is USA Wrestling’s Girls’ High School Development Committee co-chair. Ironically, Fulp was introduced to women’s wrestling by accident.

“I was the women’s gymnastics coach at Central Michigan University and the university hosted the Junior and Senior World Wrestling Team camps and my (not yet) husband, Lee Allen, was the Greco Roman World team coach,” she explains. It was a match made on the mat.

Fulp and her husband have shared their love of wrestling with their two daughters, who both have excelled in the sport — Sara Bahoura and Katherine Shai wrestled for their dad at Menlo College and both trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Together they spent 14 years on the USA Wrestling National Team.

Fulp’s heavy involvement in girls wrestling began 2015 when she and Andrea Yamamoto created the USA Wrestling Girls’ High School Development Committee as co-chairs. She traces the national popularity back about 20 years.

“The 2004 (Summer) Olympics definitely helped kick off the awareness of women’s wrestling on a national and international level,” says Fulp. “It was a monumental step to be included in the Olympics.”

The success of the U.S. in Olympic women’s wrestling is the foundation for growth. Today, women compete in six weight categories in freestyle wrestling, which is the same number as the men.