Wrestling

BPS AD Zittleman sees bright future for girls wrestling

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Girls high school wrestling in Bismarck got the green light earlier this week.

Now, it’s full steam ahead.

Bismarck High, Century and Legacy will each field teams in the fall. Job listings for head coaches have been posted, with the hope of filling all three by the end of July.

Bismarck Public Schools Activities Director Dave Zittleman said a preliminary registration resulted in 38 girls signing up for the sport, or about 13 per school. The expectation is that number will rise now that the deal has been sealed, and when coaches are in place to actively recruit more wrestlers.

“I just think it’s really exciting because the interest is there. We’ve had a number of girls wrestling with the boys the last several years and now that they have essentially their own class, I think that’s really going to spur growth,” Zittleman said. “That’s been the trend nationally in states that have girls wrestling. When you add the sport, give kids the option, it leads to growth and I do believe that’s what’s going to happen here.”

The numbers support Zittleman’s theory.

From 2018 to 2019, participation in girls wrestling rose 27.54% nationally. The following year, the jump was even greater, climbing to 34.67%, according to the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association.

Bismarck has been the hub of wrestling excellence on the boys side. Bismarck High (38), Century (6) and St. Mary’s (1) have combined to win 45 state championships. The rest of the state has 18 total.

“The success of wrestling in the Bismarck community is well documented. Obviously, we have tremendous history with this sport here,” Zittleman said. “Again, it’s all about opportunity. When you give kids the chance to participate whether it’s wrestling or anything else, that’s when you see growth and increased interest.”

North Dakota, according to the latest count, is the 30th state to add girls wrestling. Neighbors Montana and South Dakota have added the sport in recent years. Minot State announced in May it was adding a women’s wrestling team in 2022-23. The University of Jamestown has had women’s wrestling since 2009.

At the 2020 Rotary Tournament in Bismarck, a trial run of sorts was held with 35 brackets of girls wrestling.

“It was a big hit. It was really fun to have that here. You could see the interest,” Zittleman said.

The first girls state tournament will have Class A and B teams in the same field and will be held at the same location as the boys.

Similarly, duals and tournaments in the upcoming season could be held on the same day in the same location, much like a track meet.

Some hoops remain to be jumped through such as finding enough mat time for more teams, filling out coaching staffs and how lineups will be set as it relates to weight classes.

“Those are all good problems to have. There are some unknowns and what-ifs and things we’ll have to work through, but overall this is a really exciting development,” Zittleman said. “I think this is going to become a big sport in North Dakota.”

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