SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota state wrestling tournament starts Thursday, and for the first time ever will feature competition exclusively for girls.
Six years after Brookings’ Ronna Heaton became the first female to qualify for the state wrestling tournament, South Dakota is set to crown a female champion.
In its first season as a sanctioned sport, more than 150 individuals competed in girls wrestling, exceeding expectations.
“Seeing those basically triple from even a year ago just by adding the division and knowing that those girls are going to have a chance to compete at the end of the year for some medals and to get on a podium and those things really helped us see some growth,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said.
88 girls from across class “A” and “B” will compete in this week’s state wrestling tournament.
Lincoln has four state qualifiers. Patriots’ head coach Mark Ernster says growing the sport starts long before high school.
“It’s tough to come out as a high school freshman, sophomore, junior and be competitive, so to allow those youth programs even before the middle school programs, just to let them know that there is some competition in high school and that it doesn’t have to end once you get into middle school,” Ernster said.
“There have been phenomenal numbers of girls all the way up to fifth and sixth grade that are participating in AAU tournaments or middle school tournaments and then they get to that scholastic level and they just fall off because they’ve never had that opportunity,” Krogstrand said.
Opportunity is about to knock. 13 girls will earn individual championships in Rapid City, and it’s just a start.
“Once you have the ability to have a competitive dual team for girls then we can look at having a dual state championship like the boys do and the individual state team title,” Ernster said.
“Even maybe it becomes its own event at some point and you have the girls as its own stand-alone championship. Certainly, a goal that we’d like to aspire to and we’d like to see happen and be able to provide for our competitors should that day come, and hopefully, that day will be sooner rather than later,” Krogstrand said.
The state wrestling tournament starts Thursday in Rapid City, but the girls won’t compete until Friday morning. The championship matches are set for Saturday.