A DIVISION OF THEIR OWN: 2018 Yukon Open set to have girls’ division

Yukon is about to make history Nov. 10.

For the first time in the long, rich history of wrestling in Oklahoma, there will be a girls’ division in an Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association-sanctioned wrestling tournament, and that tournament will be the Yukon Open.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Yukon head wrestling coach, Joe Schneider said. “It’s the right thing to do. It will be great to pair girls up to wrestle against each other. I think it is better when girls wrestle other girls. We hope to get more girls out. Why would we not do it?”

The Yukon Open wrestling tournament will take place Nov. 10 at Yukon High School in the main gymnasium. The Yukon Open is one of the biggest open wrestling tournaments in the state and attracts more than 500 wrestlers annually.

“We have never had such a request before where a school is actively pursuing a girls’ division in a sanctioned wrestling event,” said OSSAA staff member Todd Goolsby. “This will be the first ever girls’ division in a sanctioned OSSAA wrestling event. It is something we are very interested in looking at, but we just haven’t had a great push to this point.”

Schneider said he hopes to see the numbers grow even more with the addition of a girls’ division.

“There are more girls competing than ever before,” said Yukon Public School Director of Athletics Mike Clark. “USA Wrestling is pushing it and Oklahoma is a hot bed for wrestling, but we are kind of behind with girls’ wrestling, so we came up with the idea of having a girls’ division at the Yukon Open.”

Going into the 2018-2019 schoolyear, 13 states have girls’ wrestling as a sanctioned sport, where state champions are crowned every year. One of those states is Texas.

“Texas is the flagship state when it comes to girls’ wrestling,” Yukon assistant wrestling coach, Jonathan Vestal said. “When they have duels down there, each school will bring a varsity boys team, junior varsity boys team, varsity girls team and a junior varsity girls team. It is its own division.”

In this state’s history, two girls have been state placers in the boys’ division. With the growing interest from girls in recent years, Yukon decided it was time to push forward with the movement.

“Six weeks ago or so, Mike (Clark) spearheaded this idea to Joe (Schneider) and then Joe brought it to me,” Vestal said. “We decided to jump on it and got approval from the OSSAA to go ahead with it at the Yukon Open.”

A lot of girls will wrestle at the youth ages and even into middle school, but quite a few will stop before they get to high school because they don’t want to have to compete against boys at that age level.

“Two things, maturity happens, especially for the boys and then it is not socially acceptable by a lot of people, therefore girls will weed themselves out before they get into high school,” Vestal said. “If they had the opportunity to wrestle against their peers, I believe more of them would continue to wrestle into high school.”

There are several women’s college wrestling programs across the country and one that resides just minutes away from Yukon with Oklahoma City University.

“Another positive from having a girls wrestling division at the high school level will be the scholarship opportunities,” Vestal said. “That means more girls will have a chance to go and get a college education with a wrestling scholarship. I believe it will become an OSSAA sanctioned sport in the future.”

With the OSSAA’s approval, individual girls or schools that have girls that wrestle will be able to call ahead and inform the Yukon coaches what weight they are, so the coaches can start grouping everyone together.

The Yukon Open is not the only wrestling tournament the Millers host during the year. In January, Yukon will host the annual Jay Hancock Invitational.

“If everything goes well and we have a good turnout at the Yukon Open, who’s to say we won’t add a girls’ division to the Jay Hancock,” Schneider said. “There are no rules that say we can’t do that.”

Vestal took it one step further for future Yukon wrestling tournaments.

“I would like to see a separate girls’ tournament and boys’ tournament. I think it could flourish. It just provides females with more opportunities. I’m proud of Yukon for stepping up and taking the lead on this. Oklahoma is a foundational state when it comes to wrestling, but we are behind when it comes to girls’ wrestling.”

Clark said safety is his No. 1 concern and believes having girls wrestling against other girls is better than girls wrestling boys at the high school level.

“As a father, if I had a daughter that wanted to wrestle, I would have a problem with her wrestling against boys. But, if she was going against other girls, I would have less of a problem. As an A.D., if girls are going to do this, I would like for them to compete against girls. It’s a safety concern at the high school level.”

Having a girls’ division at the Yukon Open will answer several questions for the OSSAA and Yukon moving forward.

“We want to see what kind interest this will generate in the Yukon Open,” Clark said. “It is big down in Texas. Will it create interest from other female athletes? We are trying to help the OSSAA decide how big of an interest there is.”

Goolsby said if the interest continues to grow and more tournaments and schools start adding girls’ wrestling to their programs, he could see the OSSAA sanctioning the sport.

“There are 13 states that will crown girls’ wrestling state champions in 2018-2019. There could definitely be a state championship division for girls’ wrestling in Oklahoma down the road.”

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