The State of Iowa High School Wrestling tournament is being held this week in Des Moines. Most of the pre-tournament buzz around town was that two girls had qualified for the 112-pound weight class. It is the first time a female competitor had made the tournament. This quickly became national sports news when one of the girls' first round opponents defaulted from their match today, citing personal and religious convictions.
From CBS Sports:
...in a brief statement issued through his school, (Joel) Northrup said he defaulted on his match with Cassy Herkelman because he doesn't think boys and girls should compete in the sport.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan (Black) and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," said Northrup. "As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."
The Iowa High School Athletic Association permits opposite-gender student-athletes to compete in a sport which offers no same-gender option. (For example, girls can compete in boys wrestling and football, but not in basketball or track.)
This is a fascinating story involving the bound conscience of a young man who doesn't think it's "right" for boys and girls to be engaged in such an intimate and violent sport. My inclination is to respect Northrup's decision, if for no other reason than because he defaulted honorably. He didn't whine or complain. He didn't besmirch the two female wrestlers' accomplishments or say anything pejorative about the presence of girls in a boys sport. Furthermore, there seems to be mutual admiration between the Northrup and Herkelman families, even though they both wish it would have played out differently.
It is possible that Northrup and Herkelman could face each other in the consolation round. In the meantime, there will be no shortage of commentary on this complex issue. This pushes all of my topical buttons - sports, religion, young people (not to mention that Herkelman is from my hometown of Cedar Falls) - and I, for one, can't wait to see how it all unfolds.