Girls, boys compete together in WIAA state wrestling tournament for first time

For the first time, girls high school wrestlers in Wisconsin are competing on the same floor as boys.
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 10:36 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For the first time, girls high school wrestlers in Wisconsin are competing on the same floor as boys.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Individual State Wrestling Tournament is welcoming girls and boys to the Kohl’s Center Feb. 23 through Feb. 25.

While it’s the 80th state tournament for boys wrestling and just second for girls, the 2023 tournament marks the first time they’re wrestling on the same mats.

Mattie Papenthien, a wrestler in the tournament for the Middleton Area Wrestling Club, said it gives girls wrestling the exposure it hasn’t seen before.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Papenthien said. “It definitely helps us with growing the sport and creating more of this like feel around the sport of ‘hey, you guys are included.’ It’s something that’s becoming bigger.”

With thousands filling up the seats inside the Kohl’s Center, Papenthien’s coach Joe Miller said the atmosphere offers a unique experience.

“It’s a life-changing event, something you’ll always remember,” Miller said. “To get the girls in here with (the boys) was a goal of mine.”

Miller said it’s paving the way forward for girls and the future of the sport.

“I always tell my girls, ‘you guys are trailblazers,” Miller said. “They’ll look back ten, twenty years from now and say, ‘man, we were the first girls to do it.’”

Ronna Gross, who trains and coaches girl wrestlers in Madison, said younger wrestlers are taking notice.

“Having girls side by side with the guys is making it so the girls are being a beacon for the future of women’s wrestling,” Gross said. “Working with these young girls, I just can see that they’re going to have an awesome future.”

It’s a future that excites up-and-coming wrestlers like Morgan Johnson who trains with Gross.

“It’s really cool to see how they get the same playing field as the boys and they’re starting to gain more respect,” Johnson said. “In a couple of years, when I get there, I know there’s going to be girls-only wrestling coaches, girls-only teams.”

In sixth grade now, Johnson said she plans to compete on the mats at the Kohl Center once she gets to high school and hopes to win a state championship one day herself.

One hundred and ninety-two girls competed in the tournament this year.

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