Local standout explains impact of KSHSAA girls wrestling decision

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (WIBW) - Lining a wall of Junction City High School's wrestling room are pictures of past official state champions.

Elisa Robinson has unofficially won a girls crown three times. And even though that honor is up there, she never thought about being on that wall.

"Because I didn't think there was going to be a lot of girls wrestling," Robinson said.

Now, that's definitely not the case. The KSHSAA overwhelmingly passed a ruling to sanction girls wrestling as an official state championship sport on April 26. That's due in large part to an increase in participation, as the organization's wrestling administrator said the number of girls wrestlers competing in Kansas has grown from 100 to 376 over the past four years.

"I know individuals were kind of hoping this would come about, especially over the last four years if they've seen the progression of girls wrestling," Mark Lentz said. "With those statistics, it's making it a little bit easier for our schools to see how important it is to the girls and how important it is to the sport of wrestling."

But how these young women start to be implemented into the sport will also be important. As part of the ruling, two key rule changes occur: Rule 44, where the girls state tournament will replicate the boys tournament. And another, Rule 23, that's stated as such:

“The mixed team rule is being waived for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years for the sport of wrestling. A two year transition period is being granted to permit girls the option of participating in both their school boy’s lineup and girl’s lineup during the regular season contests only. If a competition only offers a boys division, then girls will have the option of competing in the boys division. If the competition offers both a boys and girls division, then girls are required to wrestle in the girls division. After the two specified years, the mixed team rule will go into effect and girls will only participate against girls. From the start of implementation of Girls Wrestling, the girls must participate in the girls only postseason. No option is given to compete in the boys postseason.”

Robinson, who's the top-ranked wrestler at her weight class in the country, says the Rule 23 change is key for girls starting to get into the sport.

"It'll be a lot easier for them because I mean, they're wrestling their equal strength other than someone who's way stronger than them," Robinson said. "They have a great opportunity, so they're lucky."

The Junction City junior said wrestling against boys helped her build the strength to become a three-time unofficial state champion. Now, she wants to encourage prospective grapplers to not be nervous.

"There's a lot of first-year girls out there, so you won't be the only one," Robinson said. "You wrestling your own gender will be more easier because you'll be more confident."

Lentz expects the participation numbers to double with this change. And maybe some of the new girls will be confident enough to become the next Elisa Robinson, a star that travels across the country to wrestle with an eye on something new for 2020.

"I do have a goal for next year," Robinson said while looking at her school's official state championship wall. "I would feel really like excited and probably like hug my coaches and stuff."