When the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted unanimously last June to sanction girls wrestling for the 2021-22 school year, the wrestling community celebrated and began making plans for the season.
On Tuesday, that excitement turned to disappointment when the same board tabled a vote to recognize girls wrestling as a FHSAA championship sport until September. That delay diminishes the chances of having a fully-sanctioned state series in girls wrestling for the upcoming season.
“I was heartbroken for my girls and for the girls across the state,” Hagerty wrestling coach Scotty Diaz said. “We’ve talked about it for two years and have done all the planning and now it might not happen.”
Anne Rees’ daughter Kailey is going to be a senior at Freedom High School of Orlando next year and is one of the top female wrestlers in a state where the sport has invitational tournaments, including state finals, that are not operated by the FHSAA. She’s seen the growing interest in girls wrestling at camps and clinics since it was initially endorsed to be an official sport in the upcoming school year.
“We’re seeing more girls wanting to be a part of it and the ones that are already competing are looking forward to building their programs,” Anne Rees said. “Now it feels like we have to start all over against with two months to go.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s board meeting, FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn recommended that the board of directors approve the state series .
On the published agenda, it was noted that the FHSAA’s Gainesville-based staff was ready to set up regional events as qualifiers for an inaugural girls state event and would report to the board of directors in November the number of female participants, which would determine the number of regions needed to determine qualifiers .
So what changed to prompt the board to push the vote back to the fall?
In an email response to questions from the Sentinel, an FHSAA spokesperson said the the proposal as presented did not address the state dual wrestling series that boys have and the board wanted to allow time for the association’s attorney to research and advise the board on whether or not there could be Title IX (gender equity) violations in not offering girls a similar duals tournament.
Those in the wrestling community were stunned.
“Why is this all of a sudden a question that came up now?” Celebration athletic director Rick Tribit said. “Why wasn’t this something that was asked months ago? Why was this not brought up at April’s board meeting when it was tabled for some other issues?”
Parents and coaches flooded the phone lines of FHSAA staff and board members, seeking answers and pushing for an emergency board meeting to get the issue settled in time to proceed with planning for the season.
“I called (board member) Douglas Dodd and he told me that their attorney had added these concerns,” Rees said.
Rees said she plans to organize a group to go to the September meeting to show their support for girls wrestling. She is hopeful that the state duals situation can be rectified with some proper planning.
Boys wrestling teams, which can include girls, had one state tournament, the individual bracket format, for the first 53 years of FHSAA playoffs in the sport (1963-2017). The separate state duals tournament was added in the 2017-18 school year.
“The duals are gender neutral,” Tribit said. “Boys and girls can and have competed in them for their teams.”
As tournament director for the FHSAA State IBT Wrestling Championship in Kissimmee, Tribit has been formulating a plan for girls wrestling to become part of the finals next season.
“I’m the one that has to figure out the logistics for this for the state tournament,” Tribit said. “We have a couple models in place and they will have to order another mat, but we need to know that this is happening before we can take some of those next steps.”
In the end, the wrestling community is still hoping to see an official sanctioned state tournament in March to be approved at the next FHSAA board meeting.
“Fortunately for our sport and our girls, they’re super strong and will deal with whatever decision comes down,” Diaz said. “But they shouldn’t have to. They should be celebrated like the boys are.”