BERLIN – Officials at Stephen Decatur High School say efforts are underway to establish a girls’ wrestling program.
In recent years, the sport of wrestling has witnessed a boom in female participation at both the high school and collegiate level.
Since 1994, the number of girls who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to 16,562, according to the most recent statistics from the National Wrestling Coaches Association, and 63 colleges now sponsor a women’s varsity wrestling program.
Just this year, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics named women’s wrestling as an emerging sport, paving the way for athletic and scholarship opportunities. And in Maryland, the Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association approved sanctioned girls high school wrestling championships for the 2019-2020 academic year.
The 2020 War on the Shore tournament, hosted at Stephen Decatur, will also include a girls’ division. As of this week, nearly 40 female wrestlers have committed to participate.
Decatur’s wrestling program seems to be no exception to the growing trend, according to coach Todd Martinek. This year, the team includes four female wrestlers.
“Stephen Decatur’s not really sanctioned for a girls’ team yet,” he said. “So everything falls under me right now. I’m not the boys’ wrestling coach anymore, I’m the wrestling coach.”
But all of that could soon change.
Debbie Stubblebine, a liaison for the girls on Decatur’s wrestling team, said her role is to support and recruit female wrestlers. She is also working to establish a sanctioned girls’ wrestling program at the school.
“Every other sport is separated by male and female,” she said, “and it doesn’t seem right to have a contact sport that isn’t separated as such.”
But to have a sanctioned team, Stubblebine said she must seek the approval of school system officials. She noted that she had already met with the school’s administration and plans to meet with the superintendent next as part of that process.
“We will also send out surveys and identify the interest level,” she said. “It’s basically the same process when starting a new sport. You can’t just come in and say, ‘Hey, we are starting a new program.’”
Stubblebine – who has a daughter on the team – said one of the challenges with the current wrestling program is recruiting girls.
“A lot of the pushback is that a lot of parents don’t want their girls wrestling the boys …,” she said.
Martinek added that the combat sport could deter some girls from participating. But he also noted that it could lead to great opportunities for those who do.
“It’s a really good opportunity to go to college for these girls because these colleges are going to struggle to fill spots,” he said. “And if you have some experience, you could go to college and get a scholarship.”
“Out here on the shore, there’s nothing,” she said. “But across the bridge and in Pennsylvania there are lots of girls’ teams, and colleges are starting to recruit women to be on wrestling teams.”
Martinek said the hope is to have a girls’ wrestling team at Decatur within the next two years. But he said that timeline would depend on the sanctioning and recruitment process.
“Right now we have a few girls, and I don’t know how quickly that’s going to develop …,” he said. “I would love to have about 12 to 15 girls next year and have it be sanctioned.”
Stubblebine noted that if the efforts are successful, Decatur will be one of the first schools on the Eastern Shore to have a girls’ wrestling program.
“We are hoping if we build this program, other schools on the Eastern Shore will follow suit,” she said.