Maine’s girls may finally get their own state championship wrestling tourney
AUGUSTA — The number of girls competing in high school wrestling across the country has increased during each of the past 28 years.
That national trend has been perhaps most noticeable over the past six winters, when the roster of schoolgirl wrestlers has grown from 8,235 in 2012 to 14,587 for the 2017-18 season, according to an annual survey compiled by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The recent girls wrestling boom has not been nearly as robust in Maine, but supporters of the sport hope the first girls-only individual state championship tournament sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association planned for February 2019 will spur increased interest.
“The hope is more girls will participate,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson.
The proposal has passed through the MPA wrestling committee as well as its Interscholastic Management Committee and needs only an affirmative final vote from the organization’s general membership at its fall conference in November to take place for the first time Feb. 20, 2019, at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland.
Wrestling organizers in Maine have staged non-sanctioned state meets for high school girls in the past, but this would be the first official girls-only individual championship meet in state history.
“I’m for it 100 percent,” said Gerald Hutchinson, athletic administrator at Penobscot Valley High School and former longtime wrestling coach for the Howlers. “I think it’s about time the girls had this chance.”
The number of high school female wrestlers in Maine has averaged approximately 70 annually during the past five years, according to state statistics reported to the NFHS, from a low of 59 during the 2013-14 season to a high of 89 two years later.
Last winter, 74 girls from 30 schools participated on varsity wrestling teams statewide, according to the survey.
“I definitely think that once this tournament is out there and the girls see that they can compete for a championship without the boys that there’s going to be a big jump [in participation],” said Hutchinson, who also is a member of the MPA wrestling committee.
No Maine girl has won an MPA-sanctioned high school wrestling individual state championship wrestling against boys, though several have come close.
Kristi Pearse of Camden Hills of Rockport and Deanna Rix of Marshwood of South Berwick took state-title matches to overtime before each settled for second place, Rix in 2005 and Pearse in 2006.
Pearse was a two-time state finalist (2006, 2007) at 103 pounds, as was Kayleigh Longley of Noble of North Berwick (2008, 2011).
Other girls to threaten for a state championship on the mat include two other Camden Hills athletes. Logan Rich placed third at 103 pounds in 2009 while Hilary Merrifield (106 pounds) finished third at states in 2015.
“They’ve come close,” Bisson said, “but it would really be nice to crown girls wrestling state champions every year.”
Six states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington — sanctioned girls-only wrestling championship meets at the end of the 2016-2017 season, and other states, including Arizona, reportedly are joining Maine in working toward doing so this winter.
“The [wrestling committee] just ran with this because they’ve seen girls wrestling right along, and it seems like they should have this opportunity,” Bisson said. “They saw that other states have started it and that momentum is growing nationally, so they wanted to get involved.”
Bisson said one member of the wrestling committee offered to donate medals for the event for the first five years while another member (Hutchinson) offered to host the championship meet and donate the facility, site director and meet director fees for the inaugural event.
“Every committee member was immediately supportive of it,” Bisson said. “They just want it to happen.”
Maine’s first MPA girls wrestling state championship will not include a team competition due to lack of numbers but, similar to Alaska, is expected to feature eight weight classes. Alaska’s weight classes last winter were 106 pounds, 113, 120, 132, 145, 160, 182 and 220.
The meet will be contested on two mats, with at least four wrestlers required to crown a champion in each class.
The date of the planned girls wrestling state championships during Wednesday of February vacation week will allow participants to compete in both that meet and the the overall state team championships set for the previous Saturday, Feb. 16.
Zoe Buteau of Oak High School in Wales and Hannah Workman of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle were the only girls who qualified for last winter’s MPA team state championship meets.
The MPA wrestling committee is scheduled to meet next week to firm up plans for a potential first girls-only state meet, Hutchinson said.