Blue Jays add girls wrestling to winter athletics schedule
Jamestown High School is introducing its first girls wrestling team this season.
It has been almost three decades since Larry Eslick has coached any female athletes.
This winter, the Jamestown High School head wrestling coach is coaching up 16 of them.
"I have girls in my room who have come from wrestling families with wrestling backgrounds who have been encouraged by their families to participate," Eslick said. "There are competitive, athletic girls out there who don't skate or don't like basketball. It's another sport where girls can have their own identity.
"There's a lot of positive reasons why girls are going out for the sport. It's brand new and there's a lot of excitement for that."
The North Dakota High School Activities Association announced last spring the sanctioning of the sport of girls wrestling. JHS is one of 42 Class A and Class B schools that have listed girls wrestling as an official sport. North Dakota is the 30th state high school association to sanction girls wrestling.
Twenty-four states have sanctioned the sport since 2018.
"Once the girls understood that it is girls wrestling and they no longer have to wrestle boys, there was some anxiety that went away and there were quite a few more girls who came out and wanted to try it," Eslick said. "It's brand new territory for us starting a brand new program from scratch but it's exciting for us."
Prior to this year, like many other unsanctioned states, North Dakota has held a non-sanctioned girls high school state wrestling championship. The state of North Dakota has held these championships for the past five years. Over 50 female wrestlers competed in the 2021 girls' high school state wrestling championships at the Fargodome in Fargo.
Last winter there were approximately 80 girls who participated in wrestling compared to numbers in the 60s back in 2015-16. Girls wrestling is currently the fastest-growing high school sport in America.
Ten out of the 11 schools in the WDA are now listed as having a girls wrestling team. Bismarck St. Mary's is the outlier.
In the Eastern Dakota Conference, nine schools including Devils Lake, Valley City, Grand Forks Central, Wahpeton and Fargo Davies have put together teams. LaMoure/Litchville-Marion, Oakes, Ellendale/Edgeley/Kulm, Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter and South Border are among the Class B Region 3 teams who have made up teams.
"I don't think any of those schools have a full lineup, but it's exciting to watch it grow," Eslick said.
The Blue Jays have 10 high school girls and six from Jamestown Middle School who are giving the sport a go this season.
Eslick said wrestling requires no prior knowledge or skill to gain success. The head coach also noted that, unlike some other sports, wrestling is typically rather inexpensive other than the cost of shoes and headgear.
The sanctioning of girls wrestling also provides high school athletes the chance to get scholarships to higher education institutions like the University of Jamestown. The Jimmies are coached by Olympic Trials qualifier Shauna Kemp. UJ finished seventh out of 31 competing teams at last spring's NAIA National Invitational.
While Eslick said he thinks the Jays have some athletes who could vie for a state title and potential scholarships, the head coach is starting things off from square one.
"Our mindset right now is to get them coached up in the basics and help them experience that first win," Eslick said. "We're not worried about a championship, we're just worried about getting the kids on the mat. It's not going to be as fast or intense as the boys because they are more experienced.
"We'll be excited when they execute basic moves correctly and when they get that arm raised above their head in victory, it's going to be very exciting for us."
Eslick and his assistant coaches have been starting the girls off with basic steps, basic stances, basic shots and basic moves in order to train the athletes' muscle memory. The girls will be wrestling in the traditional folk style versus the Olympic style.
"Basics are what win matches," Eslick said. "That high-flying stuff is all right but there's always counters to counters and counters to moves. If you stay basic, you will win basic. These girls are excited to be in it. It's the fastest-growing high school sport in America and we're pretty pleased with what is going on right now."
If spectators want to come to see what the Jays are so excited about, they will have to get to Jerry Meyer Arena a little earlier than normal.
Since the girls team does not have a formal dual schedule this season, they are slated to compete in between the junior varsity and varsity boys contests. Eslick said the girls will do a mix-and-match style of wrestling, competing against whoever the other team has on the floor.
Eslick and the Blue Jays' first contest is slated to come on Dec. 4. The Jays are scheduled to host the KC tournament. The next Thursday, on Dec. 9, the Jays will take on Bismarck High. The girls will hit the mat at 5 p.m. with the boys to follow at 7 p.m.
"We're hoping to get this program closer to being a stand-alone program at JHS," Eslick said. "These girls are athletes and we are treating them as such. It has been a fun experience getting this program off the ground and getting these athletes going."