York County has its first girls' wrestling team as sport continues to grow in Pennsylvania

·6 min read

Tony Miller is still amazed at how much girls' wrestling has grown over the course of his career.

And he's proud his school is now part of that growth.

The Spring Grove Area School District school board approved a proposal to create a girls' wrestling program Monday night. Spring Grove is now the first high school in York County to make girls' wrestling an official sport. The team will begin competing next school year.

Spring Grove is the 51st school in Pennsylvania to start a girls' wrestling program. If that number grows to 100, girls' wrestling will be able to be sanctioned as an official sport by the PIAA.

"If you told me 25 years ago girls' wrestling would be an official sport, I'd have told you you were crazy," said Miller, the legendary former Spring Grove wrestling coach who still serves as an assistant with the program. "But it's not crazy now. It's growing and growing. We're super excited."

Alexis Bastress from Spring Grove pins Allison Coldren of Carlisle at the 2022 MyHouse Pennsylvania Girls High School State Championships organized by SanctionPA and hosted by Central Dauphin High School on March 13, 2022.
Alexis Bastress from Spring Grove pins Allison Coldren of Carlisle at the 2022 MyHouse Pennsylvania Girls High School State Championships organized by SanctionPA and hosted by Central Dauphin High School on March 13, 2022.

Considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, girls' wrestling has exploded in Pennsylvania in recent years.

But while there are 32 state high school associations that sanction a girls' wrestling state championship tournament, the PIAA is not one of them. The PIAA's reasoning is that its bylaws require 100 schools to sponsor a sport before it can be sanctioned. Local coaches have long argued that the PIAA's stance is actually preventing the sport from becoming sanctioned.

However, advocates for girls wrestling have become proactive over the past three years by encouraging schools to sponsor the sport on their own in order to reach the 100-school mark. Lancaster's J.P. McCaskey became the first school to create a team in March 2020. Gettysburg ― which is set to join the Mid-Penn next school year ― became the first school in the York Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association to start a team in October 2020.

An independent event titled the MyHouse PA High School Girls State Championships has been held in recent years — first at Gettysburg High School, then at Spooky Nook Sports and then at Central Dauphin this year. More than 250 girls competed at the event this year.

And while there were just 15 schools with official teams this past October, the sport is now more than halfway to reaching its goal of 100.

"Wrestling is such a great sport that teaches so many life lessons and character traits," Spring Grove head coach Tyke Conover said. "I've been around the freestyle wrestling scene and there's a huge girls' component to it. This is a perfect opportunity. (Gettysburg coach) Chris Haines has been such a leader in this locally and we're trying to emulate what he's done."

Putting a plan in motion

Olympians Steven Frazier (left), Helen Maroulis (center) and Adeline Gray (right) pose with girls' student-athletes at Spring Grove High School on Monday, October 18, 2021.
Olympians Steven Frazier (left), Helen Maroulis (center) and Adeline Gray (right) pose with girls' student-athletes at Spring Grove High School on Monday, October 18, 2021.

Spring Grove had some talented girls' wrestlers in the past. One of those, 2020 grad Kayla Kehr, enjoyed success at the national level early in her high school career.

But most of those girls gave up the sport or didn't want to compete at the high school level as they got older, according to Miller and Conover. The coaches said a main factor was that those girls faced a disadvantage against boys who were naturally bigger and stronger by that age.

Miller said he remembered a standout wrestler at New Oxford named Rachael Groft ― who went on to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials ― having to compete against Spring Grove state champion Brian Polashuk in the mid 2000s.

"It gets tough wrestling boys since they're more physically developed," Conover said. "It really is best for girls to be wrestling against girls."

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This past October, U.S. Olympians and women's wrestlers Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis visited Spring Grove High School to speak to students about mental health in athletics and using sports to achieve life goals. Gray pointed out she went .500 against boys' during her high school career in Colorado before becoming a five-time World Champion and Olympic silver medalist against women.

After that event, Miller and Conover decided to host a wrestling "try-it" night for girls of all ages in the community at Spring Grove Middle School. Miller said nearly 30 girls showed up.

"We were blown away," Miller said. "We didn't know what the interest would look like. But the great thing about wrestling is that it can fit everyone. If you are big or small, tall or short, there's a spot for you."

Spring Grove ended up running a "pilot program" for the sport this past season and had 10 girls come out for the boys' varsity team. Four of them (Bella Gable, Paige Costella, Alexis Bastress and Racheal Fadare) competed at the PA High School Girls State Championships.

Miller and Conover said the interest level around the sport remained high during offseason workouts ― leading to a proposal being put in front of the school board.

"We want to give kids as many opportunities as possible and this is another thing to expand their horizons," Spring Grove athletic director Jeff Laux said. "The kids had a blast with it last year and the girls are excited."

How the program will work

Adding a new sport at a school district leads to new costs from uniforms, travel and tournament fees, among other things. Laux said the girls' wrestling program will create around $2,000 in added expenses for next year, but those will be covered by fundraising efforts led by the coaching staff. He said the athletic department's budget will be adjusted in future years to include the program at no extra costs.

Conover will oversee the girls' team and it will practice with the boys' team on a regular basis ― similar to how a swimming or track team is usually run. The school is looking to hire one more assistant coach who will work with the girls' team. Miller said it would "be great to find a female coach" if possible.

Miller and Conover said they'd like to have 20 girls from seventh grade through high school in the program next year. There are 13 weight classes in girls wrestling ― the same number as the boys' sport though at different amounts.

Spring Grove is still developing a schedule, but a number of girls' wrestling tournaments have been hosted at schools like Central Mountain and Gov. Mifflin in recent years. Girls' exhibition matches sometimes take place before boys' dual meets. And Gettysburg hosted Big Spring in the first girls' wrestling dual meet in District 3 history last season, meaning similar events could be held moving forward.

Spring Grove's coaches hope their team is just the beginning for the sport in York County. Legendary Dallastown coach Dave Gable has been working to create a girls' team at his school after retiring as boys' coach in May. Miller said South Western has explored creating a program. And York College recently created a women's team that will be led by former West York coach Brian Gross.

"Hopefully we can keep providing opportunities and even scholarships for some girls," Miller said. "While we're hoping for 20 (next year), we'd love even more than that. The girls we've had are resilient and tough."

Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, mallibone@ydr.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone. 

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Spring Grove High School officially starts girls' wrestling team