The sport of wrestling at the high school and collegiate level has wilted wings at this current juncture, with programs dropping all across the nation and duals constantly littered with forfeits.
Luckily, as Frederick athletic director and wrestling committee chair Ernie Derrera said last week, Colorado's levels of participation are largely better than that of other regional states.
Yet, at Derrera's core, he believes there are things that can be done to not only keep wrestling alive but to have it thrive. In particular, Derrera thinks that funneling more girls into wrestling beyond the elementary and middle school levels will give the sport a jolt.
In order to realistically do that, the idea of a CHSAA sanctioned girls-only division of wrestling has been gaining traction, and this season there will finally be some events to gauge the overall level of interest. Starting with a girls-only event at Frederick High School on January 14, girls will get the chance to see what the future may hold for their part in the sport.
"One of the things that we've noticed when looking at the numbers is that girls wrestling at the elementary age and even somewhat the middle school age have been going up, and you're seeing more girls wrestling in high school but not a whole lot," Derrera said this week. "We know there are a lot of girls wrestling, but we want to set up some pilot tournaments to see just what kind of numbers we do have and are they as high as we believe they are. Are there girls that want to wrestle just against female competition? For many reasons, we think we're missing out on some girls that want to wrestle but just aren't."
According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, several states throughout the country already have girls wrestling sanctioned, including Texas (the first state to do so), California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.
The NWCA website states: "Today, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported 11,000 girls competing in high school, representing approximately 1,800 programs. This number is not fully accurate, as a number of states do not report girls in their wrestling statistics if they compete on the boy's team."
Since Brooke Sauer of Golden became the first female in Colorado to qualify for the state championships in 2006, there have been six others who have made it to the final weekend of CHSAA competition — most recently Mountain View's Kaley Barker and Denver East's Maya Nelson earlier this calendar year.
Silver Creek senior Olivia Ioppolo is looking to possibly be the next in line. A transfer from Prairie View who has been wrestling for roughly seven years, she currently holds a 6-3 varsity record in 2016, against all males so far.
But while she has no reservations against wrestling with the boys, she also said there's a general feeling she gets when she sets foot on the mat.
"It's hard to be a girl wrestler, because when you walk into a tournament guys just kind of write you off automatically," Ioppolo said. "But I'm just trying to go out there and prove that you can do it if you put your mind to it. You can be good and you can show up the boys that say that.
"I feel like there are girls wanting to get into the sport to show they can do it, too, but it is fun. It's a combat sport, and I think girls are more getting interested in that idea. I think (a girls division) is closer than some might think."
Silver Creek has two other girls on the team — senior Sabrina Reyes and sophomore Hope Guynup-Guzman. Among local teams, Skyline also has 126-pound contender Katja Klingberg at the varsity level.
A look at Colorado rosters on trackwrestling.com shows a number of girls competing at weights above and below 126 pounds, but Derrera said that seems to be the threshold where a male's strength-to-weight ratio is drastically different than that of their female counterparts.
Ioppolo agreed with that statement, noting that is why there is so many more female wrestlers in the younger age groups.
"There are way more younger girls competing than in high school, and I think that has to do with in elementary and middle school, boys and girls are more equal in their anatomy so it's easier (to compete)," Ioppolo said. "Once you get to high school, boys develop the muscles. But I feel like boys at the lower weight classes don't have any advantage over the girls. It's pretty even."
So it only seems to make sense that girls of all weight classes get the chance to compete for state championships. The initial tournaments that Derrera and a number of other influential people have help set up is just the first step in the process.
In addition to the Jan. 14 event at FHS — which coincides with the Warrior Invitational — Derrera said there are pretty firm plans for three more events. Specifically, Highlands Ranch, Niwot and Silver Creek have expressed interest in hosting something, with details still to be ironed out.
Derrera said he has encountered some hurdles with the Frederick event. Any girl who wants to compete must already be an eligible student-athlete on a high school team, must comply with the NWCA's Optimal Performance Calculator, and they must have a high school coach present. Also, they must understand that the girls-only matches will not count toward their individual varsity record or the team's 28-point limit.
Those factors have likely played a role in a somewhat limited response so far, but Derrera was confident that after the holiday break he would have a more clear picture of what the brackets will look like.
"We want these girls to have to do what all the wrestlers do," Derrera said, referring to compliance. "I think with the advent of what we're seeing in the Olympics and the U.S. having a gold medalist, with (mixed martial arts) increasing in popularity, I think this is something that is coming at the right time for us."
Anyone interested in competing in the Frederick girls tournament should contact Derrera at email@example.com.