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For high-school wrestlers across the country, February is the stuff of dreams. Sectional meets leading up to state tournaments begin this month, and thousands of hopes will be realized while thousands more wind up dashed.

Megan Black, a sophomore wrestler at Ottumwa High School in Iowa one of two females who made history at the state wrestling tournament this year. Black wanted to become the first girl to win a state high-school wrestling title against boys. That honor went to Michaela Hutchison of Alaska five years ago but Black was hoping to be first girl  to win a title in Iowa. Also turning heads on the mat this season is Cassy Herkelman, a freshman at nearby Cedar Falls High School.

Since the Iowa High School Athletic Association began sanctioning the event in 1926, no girl has ever qualified for the state wrestling tourney. This year both Black and Herkelman made the cut. According to the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA) database, Herkelman takes a 20-13 record into states and Black sports a 22-12 mark with eight recorded pins. Both students are daughters of former Iowa prep wrestlers who qualified for state themselves.

Black made history on Thursday, becoming the first female to ever face a male on the mat in the traditional Iowa state high school wrestling tournament but was eliminated after being pinned in her second match.  In the video below, a very composed Black says she was disappointed but knew what she was getting into. She vows “she’ll be back.”

Herkelman advanced through the first round of state’s but not because of a strong takedown or pin.  The stand-out she was scheduled to wrestle defaulted because he refused to compete against  a girl. In a news release, the boy said he forfeited his match  because he doesn’t think boys and girls should compete in the sport. Herkelman will next wrestle Friday in the quarterfinals of the 112-pound weight class.

Dr. Nicole LaVoi of the Tucker Center discusses issues that arise when girls compete against boys. LaVoi writes:

Most boys can greatly benefit from having to compete against girls. It has the potential (and I say that cautiously) to be a great opportunity for both competitors. Isn’t that the true meaning of competition…to strive together and bring out the best in each other?… However, the opportunity will be lost if the adults in the lives of both competitors mess it up. By that I mean if the coach or parents tease or allow teasing of the boy if he loses, which reinforces that boys should naturally be better than girls. It also tells the boy he isn’t “a real man” if he can’t beat a GIRL. Comments, teasing, hazing, and bullying directed towards the female competitor should also not be allowed.

Officials at the IHSAA say that 39 girls participated in varsity wrestling programs this season. That’s nearly double the 20 that were on record three years ago.

While girls make up a just a small portion of high school competitors, they’re in it for the same reason as the boys — testing themselves in an individual event, the thrill of competition and the ruggedness of the sport.

Instead of a grass-roots sports movement that started in communities and worked its way up, women’s wrestling started at the top and trickled down. The big breakthrough came in 2004, when women’s freestyle wrestling became a medal event at the Summer Olympics. A number of colleges currently offer scholarships.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 6,000 girls competed in wrestling in 2009-10 — compared with nearly 275,000 boys.  Texas, California, Washington, Tennessee and Hawaii have sanctioned gender-specific girls’ wrestling, but in most states, including Iowa, if a female wants to compete there she has to fight — and beat — the boys.

If you want to watch or participate in a wrestling match, here are some Common Wrestling Terms you should be familiar with:

Greco-Roman: Style of wrestling in which opponents are limited to using their arms and upper bodies, and may only apply holds above the waist.

Freestyle: (sometimes called folkstyle) Style of wresting in which opponents can use arms and legs, and can apply holds both above and below the waist

Match: ( or bout), consists of three rounds; in the Olympics, they’re two minutes each, with 30-second rest periods in between. The goal of the wrestler is to bring the opponent’s shoulders to the mat and keep them there for a particular duration (2 seconds in high school, 1 second in college, and about a half-second-the time it takes the ref to say the French word “tombe,” or “fall”-in the Olympics). This is called a pin or a fall, and it wins the round. The winner of two out of the three rounds wins the match.

Full Nelson: A hold in which both of the wrestler’s arms are passed under the opponent’s armpits and both hands are on the back of the opponent’s head; illegal in amateur wrestling.

Headlock: A hold in which an arm is around the opponent’s neck and the hands are locked together. The opponent’s arm must be gathered into the hold to prevent accidental choking.

Takedown: When a wrestler takes the opponent to the mat from the standing or neutral position, it is a takedown, worth one point.

Don’t confuse the sport of wrestling with pro wrestling. Although pro wrestling is built on basic wrestling moves and terminology, it also draws heavily from entertainment and drama, with “storylines” and opponents classified as good guys and villains.

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