High school girl wrestlers will be on equal footing starting this season. The KSHSAA sanctioned girls wrestling as a sport this past spring.

The first practice is Monday, and a group of Ottawa girls will make history. Ottawa High School athletics/activities director Brad Graf expects up to eight girls to participate in the first practice.

“We had a meeting last week and there were five girls in attendance,” Graf said. “We have had contact with a couple of other girls that may be interested. Our girls recognize it is an opportunity for them to have their own sport. It has been OK across the state for years for girls to wrestle boys. Now there is a movement for a quality and competitiveness within separate genders. It does provide opportunities — not only within our school — but for postsecondary education, whether it is a junior college that has a (women’s) program or a four-year school like Baker or Ottawa University.”

On Monday, Graf presented a proposal to add a girls program to the school board, which will consider the measure at its next meeting.

OHS wrestling coach Dalton Weidl said girls wrestling is growing quickly across the nation. He said there are 12 states with girls wrestling and seven of those were added last year.

“There are 40 colleges that have (women’s) wrestling,” Weidl said. “They say it is the fastest growing sport in the Midwest.”

Board member Brian Kane said students gain a lot from being involved in extra-curricular activities.

“If you have interest in the program, we should do everything we can do to provide for that program,” he said. “I think it is great.”

Graf explained KSHSAA gives schools a couple of options for girls wrestling. In a mixed team situation, girls could wrestle girls or boys, but would only be eligible to compete against boys in the postseason.

“The second option is adding a girls wrestling team,” Graf said. “If we have a girls wrestling team — at the end of the year — we would have a girls regional tournament with an opportunity to advance to a girls state tournament. In order to provide an equitable and competitive opportunity, adding a girls wrestling team would be beneficial to those young ladies.”

Graf added in two years, the option of a mixed team will not be available.

“The state has provided that two-year grace period so schools across the state can transition and build their numbers up where they have competitive programs to feed off each other,” Graf said. “The Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association has really been pushing this for the last four years to make the move to where the vote happened in the spring and KSHSAA approved it as a sport. It was a long time coming.”

Frontier League administrators have been working on procedures of adding girls wrestling for a year.

“It was the logistics of who was going to have a girls (team), how many girls you going to have and get clarification from the state of Kansas — if we stayed as a mixed team — what do we do if we add a girls program,” Graf said. “We wanted to make sure we are making the best decision for our kids. As a league, we have had those discussions. We want to make sure we are providing opportunities.”

He said scheduling was made easier when tournaments and duals added a girls division.

Graf said a girls wrestling program will not be any different than having separate teams in track, tennis or golf.

“It is the best option to add a girls program,” he said. “It is a nice opportunity for our females. In two years, the option of a mixed team is going to go away anyway."