IHSA adds girls wrestling State Series; Community’s numbers double

The IHSA Board of Directors announced the inaugural girls wrestling State tournament on June 14, with the first state finals scheduled at Bloomington’s Grossinger Motors Arena this upcoming winter sports season.

With girls competing for both Community and West last wrestling season, this change will provide Unit 5’s female wrestlers a stage of their own to compete on. 

“The number of female participants continues to grow,”  IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release. “We are proud to be able to offer an incredible venue and stage to recognize them on. This is an important step for Illinois high school wrestling as a whole.” 

For West wrestler Sammy Lehr (’23) the IHSA’s announcement recognizing girls wrestling is exciting. 

Lehr is looking forward to more opportunities to compete against other female wrestlers. 

“I’m hoping it’ll gain more interest,” Lehr said, “so I get to see more girls in the sport and at different meets.”

At Community last season, four girls wrestled as part of Coach Trevor Kaufman’s program.

Kaufman attributes the success of wrestlers like Community’s Pyper Wood and Shelby Hailey in non-IHSA sanctioned events hosted by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) with encouraging the IHSA’s adoption of the girls wrestling season.

Wood and Hailey ranked in the top ten for their respective weight classes last season, qualifying for IWCOA’s state tournament Kaufman said. 

For the 2021-22 season, eight girls are on Community’s wrestling roster, doubling the previous season’s numbers. 

“It’s fun to see the growth,” Kaufman said, “…especially [for] females. There are a lot of opportunities for female wrestlers.”

When Kaufman wrestled in high school and college, female wrestlers weren’t common, girls in the sport were “so scarce,” the coach said.

This season, Kaufman plans to structure wrestling practices similar to that of a cross country or track team. Both the girls and boys teams will share practice space but will work on different skills and compete separately at meets and tournaments.

Practicing together is also out of necessity,  due to the wrestling program being staffed with one assistant coach as well as Kaufman.

“We just have two paid coaches for the whole program,” Kaufman said. “We’re looking to get another one added for the girls, that would help.” 

Only having two coaches presents a problem when it comes to having a Varsity, JV, and now a girls team competing at different tournaments. Luckily, Kaufman receives help from volunteers who move around to coach at the different events and meets.

Despite the limitations presented by more wrestlers in the program and added competitions without additional coaches, Kaufman continues to push for more opportunities for female wrestlers. 

One of the opportunities that Kaufman had was open mats and wrestling clinics. At Community on Oct. 18, the Community and West wrestlers held a K-8 girls wrestling clinic. This clinic introduced girls to wrestling and taught them some basic skills and techniques. 

In addition to the clinics, Kaufman and Community are hosting a girls invitational tournament.

“We are having the first all-girls tournament of the year in the state,” Kaufman said, “to have all the girls compete from all over [and] to draw in as many girls as possible.”

The girls IWCOA Invitational Tournament will be held at Normal Community on Nov. 27.