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

news, athletes


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

nonmember avatar Christine

First off, I think that girls should be able to try out for boys sports and vice versa. Also each person should be selected on ability not on gender. There are a handful of girls on the highschool football teams around here. When I was in highschool a boy wanted to try out for (and made) our Band Color Guard (twirling flags and dancing). Second, what I respect this young man for his speaking up for himself and his beliefs. I do not feel sorry for him that he was to wrestle against a girl and I feel the girl had all the same right as he did to be competing. HOWEVER, it was he who decided it made him uncomfortable and instead of going along for the sake of the win or pride or whatever, he spoke up and chose to forfeit. For that I say to him ~ Good Job!

Fallaya Fallaya

Women are the weaker sex.  It's not meant as a slam against us ladies, it's the truth.  A male should not be competing with a female in a wrestling match!!His parents raised him correctly...he's a true gentlemen.

nonmember avatar Leslie Shafferl

This young man may someday have a daughter, will they not begin this sport like any other sport? (i.e., ball, running races, etc...) He will wrestle with his daughter on the living room floor, just as he will play catch in the pack yard, or "have a race". At exactly what point does it change that it is no longer ok for her to have the opportunity to win, because she is female?

Playi... Playitagain

3 of my Uncles are former Iowa State Wrestling Champs, 2 of my cousins are also.  I dated a Wrestling Coach and during high school worked very closly with the program. I helped take stats in college and do everything I could on the side lines. I was as much apart of the team as the boys themselves.

My family and I do not believe in females wrestling against males, this is for several reasons. One of which is one year IN IOWA there was a girl who decided to wrestle, her dad decided that one boy groped her, to everybody else it was a normal move. Boy nearly ended up a sex offender.

I am all for the forward movement of women, however there are limits to what should be done. One of those limits is a physical sport that requires the movements that wrestling does. I would never allow my daughters to partake in it, they can play Vollyball, Swim, do whatever else they feel like but not Wrestling. My family thinks its sick that parents allow this, I fully understand why the boy refused and wonder how many more of those wins came by forfit, the girls that wrestled who I knew, at least one match a week was forfit if not more. The boy was not being sexist, he was being logical, its based off combat, hand to hand, and to some extent do we not teach our sons to fear touching a girl wrongly, all it takes is the wrong girl, with parents who dont agree.

Elizabeth Gronewald

Firstly, the definition of feminism at its roots is to want equality for women. Not better. Secondly, domestic violence can be committed by both men and women and abuse is never alright. Thirdly, I respect your beliefs, but the fact that this culture is still holding men and women to different standards is sexist. The truth of the matter is that women can slap, hit, kick, and punch men without as much demonization by society as a man who does the same experiences. That is not right. If I as a person raise my fist and hit you, another person, you should have the right to choose to defend yourself. Man, woman, mixed, this is an issue of one group being given a benefit another is not. That is not equal. That is not right.  I do not want to be put on a pedastal because of the sex I was given in development. Mutual respect from both genders should be given.

Elizabeth Gronewald

Also, the genders should be segregated in sports for the sake of avoiding problems. There are many cultural beliefs that are working against boys and girls mixing in sports right now. Until those beliefs are eradicated or made the minority, boys and girls should not mix. Problem solved. I am not saying these beliefs are archaic or wrong. The traditional beliefs of a society will be clung in times of social and cultural change ( which is occuring regarding gender roles). Until the structure is finished shifting to most of its extent, there are some battles that should be left to rest for the moment.

Philip Tortora

The Iowa high school wrestler who forfeited match against female opponent illustrates a serious dilemma. Did he make the right choice? I don't think you can blame him for not wanting to wrestle a girl in such a physical, sometimes violent sport.

nonmember avatar Al

Just another example of girls trying to be like boys. Glad the high school boy frew the line.

Hayde... HaydensMom178

I couldn't agree with you more, Kay!  I'm very proud of this young man for standing up for himself when he felt uncomfortable.  He praised her and complimented her, and the author (and some of the posters) still want to make this guy the bad guy?  That's ridiculous!  Yes, feminists, I hate to burst your bubble, but there ARE differences between girls and guys.  As a previous poster also stated, there's a world of difference between the strength of a 120-lb. teenage boy and 120-lb. teenage girl.  This is exactly what I'd hope my son would do if he were put in that position.  Here's a thought, why not do like one previous poster said her high school did: Put girls wrestling other girls and let the boys wrestle boys?  Nothing wrong with that!

nonmember avatar Trpster

As I read this, comments and all I am on my way to the NV NIAA State Wrestling Championships in Reno, NV. My son is a high school wrestler at 160lbs who is competing for the State Title.

I have had the opportunity over the last 5 years to see many fine young ladies wrestle,(usually about 120 and less) and have no problem with it. This being said, I also, at last years State Championship held in Las Vegas watched as a young man wrestling at under 120 broke his collar bone. One of the boys my son wrestled at Zone last week broke his arm. High School wrestling combines 3 things: Technique and Skill, Stregnth and Stamnia, and Youthful Exuberance. As a close contact sport there are dangers involved, I do not think either party should be lambasted, rather we should celebrate the freedom for each athlete to choose which route they felt best in this situation.

There is no right or wrong here, it is what it is.

21-30 of 120 comments First 12345 Last