No quarter given and none wanted

Women and girls mix it up in contact sports as rough as football and wrestling

Women and girls mix it up in contact sports as rough as football and wrestling

December 23, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

INWOOD, W.Va. - As Musselman High School's first female varsity wrestler, freshman Krissy Barrett is among a generation of girls who feel comfortable competing in male-dominated contact sports. Krissy sometimes feels more comfortable than the boys she's facing off against at the mat.

"They're usually nervous," said Krissy, 14, of Inwood. "They don't want to get beat by a girl."

Though not all guys like opening their sporting ranks to girls, it has generally become more acceptable for females to participate in sports such as wrestling and football, said Debby Lening, vice president of media and marketing for the National Women's Football Association (NWFA). Since 1972 and the passage of Title IX - the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity (including athletics) at any educational institution that is a recipient of federal funds - more and more girls have participated in traditional male sports, according to the Women's Sports Foundation at on the Web.


More than 3,000 girls wrestled - and about 1,650 girls played football - on boys' high school teams in the United States in 2001, according to information from the foundation. There's been so much interest in football, in fact, that the Nashville, Tenn.-based NWFA recently started a program for high school girls. Called "Girls of the Gridiron," the program enables interested females younger than 18 to practice with professional women's football teams in their area, NWFA founder and CEO Catherine Masters said.

Since she started one Tennessee team in August 2000, the NWFA has grown to include 37 teams in 23 states, she said.

Spectators are "always astounded at how talented these girls are and how hard they hit," Masters said.

Wrestling is a perfect fit for 112-pound Krissy Barrett, who was named the outstanding wrestler for her age group at the Virginia Challenge Fall Open last November. Two of her brothers also wrestle, she said.

"I've always been a tomboy. I always liked rough things, and wrestling was the roughest sport I could find," Krissy said. "And it looked fun."

Krissy said she's never been seriously hurt while wrestling - and that's not because her male teammates and opponents take it easy on her, Musselman wrestling coach Mark Cagle said.

"There's not one bit of difference in the way she's treated," he said. "They beat on her and she beats on them."

It's up to the parents of minor student athletes in Tri-State area schools and beyond to weigh potential risks before giving permission for students to participate in contact sports, said Ed Masood, supervisor of arts, health, physical education and athletics for Washington County Public Schools.

Parents should consider variables such as the size of the athletes, the sport they are playing, the physical condition of the athletes and the quality of coaching and skill instruction, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. Coaches and school athletics supervisors must make risks clear to all potential players, added Don Folmar, senior high athletic director for the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District.

There are risks involved anytime you play a contact sport - and those risks can be greater for female athletes competing in the same arena with males. Though boys and girls generally don't differ significantly in height and weight before puberty, the male hormone androgen kicks into high gear after puberty. Most boys are then stronger and able to run farther and throw faster than girls, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.

"As a rule, the males are bigger, stronger and faster," Folmar said.

That's why the Women's Sports Foundation and NWFA officials generally discourage girls from competing against males after the age of about 11 or 12. Instead, girls who want to play contact sports should compete on separate same-sex teams unless they have the size, strength and skill needed to safely play with and against boys.

"We have to be realistic and realize we're built different," Masters said.

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