California Takes Women’s Wrestling Seriously
By Bill X. Barron, Associated Wrestling Press
On January 6th, California is host to the USA Showcase wrestling event at the Anaheim Convention Arena, host site for the 1984 Olympic Wrestling Games and next door to Disneyland. Through the efforts of Rocky Mountain National (RMN) Events, which secured the venue and will organize as well as direct the meet, there will be two tournaments run simultaneously: a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) sanctioned high school women’s competition under the auspices of Northview High School (Covina), in addition to RMN Event’s national youth coed tournament for ages 6-15.
California is known for its highly skilled female competitors as well as for its rapidly increasing number of girl wrestlers. Recently, the Associated Wrestling Press interviewed Northview’s head women’s wrestling coach, Chris Lopez. Chris is eager for the California girls to experience national caliber competition with participating high schoolers all over the country. He says: “Everyone is looking for girls to not just compete against girls in our own state but against the best competition in the country. It is exciting that RMN Events is making this possible.” Ed Gutierrez, CEO of RMN Events states: “Our goal is for the USA Showcase to become the nation’s premier high school women’s wrestling competition.”
“This is my second year coaching the women’s team, with a few years in between,” states Chris. “The current level and amount of competition has risen way above expectations. I am amazed to see not just girls competing, but athletes who look like wrestlers; they can scrap, they know how to hit a high crotch, and they can use a mean crossface.” While some schools do not yet field a full squad, Northview had 32 women on last year’s team. Like their male counterparts, women participate in 14 weight classes; the weights for females are 101, 106, 111, 116, 121, 126, 131, 137, 143, 150, 160, 170, 189, and HWT. By Coach Lopez’s estimation, approximately 300 California schools field at least one female wrestler.
The host school boasts a returning state women’s high school champion, Angelina Gomez (101 pounds) as well as Coach Lopez’s younger sister, Julia Padilla, who placed 6th last year at State. Both will be seniors in the fall. In California, which will enter its 6th year fielding separate girls and boys wrestling teams, female competitors qualify first through a league championship; the top 3 at League advance to regionals; the top 6 regional placers go to the CIF Finals; then the top 8 from the finals advance to State. Northview also has the honor of having four of its girls participating on the National Team competing in Fargo this summer; Alexis Medina (2nd at Freestyle State) will join Julia and Angelina on the California freestyle squad.
In Coach Lopez’s opinion, the biggest gain for female wrestling has been the upsurge in the number of high school participants and teams, which has subsequently generated an increase in available college options for female competitors, including a growing movement to declare women’s wrestling as a Division I college sport. At the same time, most high school competition for girls is in folkstyle, whereas collegiate and international competition is in freestyle. There is a growing interest in higher level women’s competition; thus, there is a need for female-focused tournaments, camps, and clinics.
Coach Lopez concluded the interview with some personal observations. “Teaching young women, many of whom may not have a positive male role model, is a privilege. Here in California, where there is a large Hispanic population of girls in wrestling, traditional households may not always be supportive of their daughters participating in this sport. When my younger sister competed back around 2008, there was no sanctioned girls state event, although she was an undefeated 4-time state champion. Now we have a full team of just high school girls and California has a CIF-sanctioned women’s state championship.”