Iowa High School Wrestler Refuses to Face Female Opponent

An Iowa high school wrestler named Joel Northup preferred to default on his first-round state tournament match rather than wrestle a girl. As a result, said girl, a freshman named Cassy Herkelman, who was 20-13 entering the tournament, won the match by forfeit. She and fellow female wrestler Megan Black made history by being the first girls to qualify for the state tournament since 1926, according to CBS News.

In a formal statement, Northup, who is home-schooled but competes for Linn-Mar High, explained his decision:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. 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.


In other words, he'd feel more comfortable in a sport that completely shuts young women out of athletic competition.

Hey, I have nothing against this kid -- he has his beliefs, and he's stickin' to 'em. Good for him. He sounds perfectly nice, and at least he's acknowledging respect for the young women. I'm also sure his decision is coming from a good place. But, those points aside, the matter's eye-rollingly laughable. Deal with it, kid. Herkelman's just as good as you are, and if she wasn't able to take the heat (or violence, as you put it), then she wouldn't have become a high school wrestler in the first place.

Nonetheless, Herkelman's dad was very understanding of Northup's decision. He released his own statement:

It's nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round. I sincerely respect the decision of the Northup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wish everyone well, too, but this incident does say something about sexism in sports. No matter how much progress we've made with gender equality, sadly, it's still difficult for female athletes to battle stereotypes and be taken seriously. Someone's always going to question their abilities, decline to compete against them as an equal (as in this case), or ask them why they don't just cheerlead or play a sport for which there's an all-girls' team. That's all there is to it. And it's seriously frustrating.

At least there's someone who seems to get it. Chandra Peterson, who is now a senior at Iowa State and wrestled in high school, gave her opinion on the situation to USA Today:

Whatever he's upset about you'd think he'd want to put it aside and wrestle. That's his loss. It's sad that it's 2011 and there are people that still think girls should not be wrestling.

Sad is right. Oh, well. Despite having to face discrimination in her sport, Herkelman thankfully has other young women like Peterson to look up to.

Do you think Northup should have defaulted on the match with Herkelman?


Image via Jim Danvers/Flickr

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