Today, a male high school wrestler in Iowa defaulted on his first-round state tournament match because his opponent was female, according to the Des Moines Register.
Sophomore Joel Northrup was set to face freshman Cassy Herkleman, who, alongside Megan Black, made state history this year as the first females to ever qualify for the state wrestling tournament. After grappling with the decision— according to the Register, Northrup was considering a forfeit because of his family’s religious beliefs—he officially defaulted on the match this morning.
Northrup released this statement today:
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport, and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most of the high school sports in Iowa.”
The newspaper reported that Herkleman and Northrup were scheduled to meet in a match on Jan. 13, but Northup also did not participate in that match.
According to EasternIowaHighSchoolSports.com, Northrup “was forced to take the mat to forfeit directly to Herkelman [in today’s match] to remain eligible in the consolation round.”
Due to the default, Herkleman became the first female in Iowa history to win a state tournament match. The other female competitor, Black, did wrestle on Thursday and was pinned in 52 seconds by her male opponent.
Northrup came into the tournament with a 35-4 record and was considered one of the favorites to win his 112-pound weight class, according to the Associated Press. He finished third in the state last year with a 38-4 record as a freshman.
This story certainly raises some thorny questions in terms of gender equality in school sports. On the one hand, if Herkleman is physically capable of competing in the 112-pound weight class, I’m not about to play armchair quarterback and say she shouldn’t compete at that level. Seeing as she finished with a 20-13 record on the year, it’s clear that we’re not talking about a physically overmatched female here.
On the other hand, can Northrup be faulted for forfeiting? I heard the same lessons growing up that Northrup presumably heard: Boys don’t hit girls. Period. Bottom line.
Now, we’re talking about a state wrestling tournament here, not a mixed martial-arts fight—it’s not like punches and kicks are being thrown left and right. And both Herkleman and Northrup were in the 112-pound weight class, so Herkleman wouldn’t be facing someone who outweighed her by 50 pounds.
Still, Northrup was put in a position by the state where he was ultimately asked to violate his moral code to compete in the tournament. That’s not to say females shouldn’t be allowed to take part in the state tournament—quite the contrary, in fact—but these potential male forfeits are more to take into consideration.
This may be the first time Iowa’s seen a wrestler forfeit to avoid facing a female in the state tournament, but here’s guessing it won’t be the last time.
UPDATE, 1:20 PM: Bill Herkelman, Cassy’s father, text messaged the following response to the Associated Press:
“It’s nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round,” Bill Herkelman wrote. “I sincerely respect the decision of the Northup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.