When the 2018-19 school year concludes in late May, the Kansas State High School Activities Association will have crowned state champions in 22 different sports.
Starting with the 2019-20 season, that number will grow to 23.
On Friday, the KSHSAA Board of Directors overwhelmingly passed the addition of girls wrestling as a sanctioned KSHSAA sport. The proposal was approved by a vote of 63-2.
“This has been a four-year process for me, looking at how we would try to make it work and what bridges we would cross to get it done,” said McPherson wrestling coach Doug Kretzer, who also serves as the women’s representative for the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. “I think we were way out in front of this thing on the majority of states that have passed us in the last couple of years. We’ve come a long way in three years since the KWCA got behind it. We’ve built from no girls events to multiple girls events; from no team having a true girls team to multiple schools having girls teams. We’ve got a strategy for growth over time and now is the time. It’s the right time.”
No sport in the state, and perhaps the nation, has seen more growth over the past three years than girls wrestling. The explosion of the sport in Kansas in that span has been staggering.
In 2017, there were 112 girls wrestling in Kansas with just four tournaments all season that were female-only. In 2018, that number jumped nearly 200 percent with 215 girls participating and nine tournaments.
This past season saw even more growth with 376 girls and 15 tournaments.
“We’ve shown that if you give girls the same opportunities you give the boys, they will flock to the sport,” Kretzer said. “I know the rewards I’ve reaped by being someone who wrestled, the life lessons that sports and dedication to athletics offer. Not everybody is an out-of-the-box ball sport kid. Wrestling is awesome because it doesn’t favor any particular size athlete. And if you drive that down to the gender level, giving girls those same opportunities is great.
“Women have missed out on those rewards that wrestling offers. To give these girls the opportunity to benefit from the sport like boys do, I think it’s warranted. I think it’s past due. The trailblazers who have been out there for years and years wrestling in a boys sport, it shows just how tough they are. I have so much appreciation for what they’ve done.”
McPherson has played host to an unofficial girls state championship each of the past three years and the growth in that tournament has mirrored the overall growth in the state. In 2017, 56 girls representing 36 schools competed at the state tournament.
In 2018, the number rose to 135 girls from 57 schools. This February, there were 220 girls from 80 schools competing with a handful of schools sporting double-digit wrestlers. Area standouts Makaea Forbes of Atchison County, Morgan Mayginnes of Onaga, Elise Rose of Marysville and Elisa Robinson of Junction City captured titles this season and Shawnee Heights’ Marissa Patterson was a previous state champion.
Prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, there were six states that had sanctioned girls wrestling. In the last six months alone, eight more states have sanctioned the sport, many having lower participation numbers than Kansas.
Even with the sport’s early growth in numbers, Kretzer said waiting until now to get the sport sanctioned by the KSHSAA was the right thing to do.
“I’m glad we didn’t push this thing through before it was ready,” he said. “I didn’t want to see it fail. I wanted to see successful growth to where it just becomes a part of the state’s history. I think the time is right. I don’t see any reason why this doesn’t make sense at this point. Socially, we’re ready for it. And we’ve got the structure in place to do it right.”
Two other significant proposals also passed at Friday’s KSHSAA meeting.
The board voted 54-11 in favor of adopting a two-day, 36-hole state championship format for boys and girls state golf. Currently, state champions in the sport are decided in a one-day, 18-hole format.
“As far as I can remember, even when I played here at Washburn Rural, we talked about it as players,” said Washburn Rural golf coach Jared Goehring, who also serves as president of the Kansas Golf Coaches Association, which proposed the change. “I can remember my head coach, Don Williams, hoping for it and praying that some day it would happen. As a coach now, it’s something we talk about year after year and it’s finally coming to fruition.”
Kansas previously used a 36-hole format for state golf, ending that format in 1982. Prior to the proposal passing on Friday, Kansas was one of just six states that didn’t use a 36-hole format to determine its state champion in the sport.
Under the new format, qualifying for the state tournament will occur in the current manner in which the top-three teams from all boys and girls regionals except Class 3A (two teams from six regionals) qualify along with the next five individuals not on qualifying teams.
Once the first day of the state tournament is completed, the field will be trimmed with the top six teams qualifying for the second day. In addition, individuals not on those qualifying teams will advance so that the field for the second day is 54 golfers total.
The lowest four scores from the qualifying teams for each day will count toward the final team total to decide the champion. If weather forces a cancellation of the second day, the 18-hole scores will determine the champions.
“It makes for a lot more respectful champion for sure,” Goehring said. “College coaches have always commented on that, how they want to see someone who can persevere throughout a 36-hole championship instead of a one-day setting.
“It’s really all about the kids. It favors your better players, your better teams. Instead of having one good day of 18 holes, a two-day, 36-hole championship separates your better players and better teams from the field.”
The board also approved a proposal that will allow high school football teams to participate in jamboree scrimmages involving three or four schools, replacing the traditional intra-squad scrimmages that have become commonplace.
The measure had overwhelming support from the state’s coaches with 96 percent in favor of having the option to schedule a jamboree. The board passed it 62-5.
Citing safety and numbers as the primary motivation behind the proposal, Basehor-Linwood coach Rod Stallbaumer, president of the Kansas Football Coaches Association, called the decision a no-brainer.
“It’s not change for change; it’s change for the better,” Stallbaumer said. “It’s better for Kansas, better for football and better for the kids. If you like the old format, you don’t have to do it. But I think it’s a no-brainer myself.”