The Oregon School Activities Association executive board voted unanimously at its Feb. 12 meeting to sanction girls wrestling. Beginning in 2018-19, the state tournament will include the five classifications for the boys along with a sixth all-class girls division.
"They've been working on it for about three years," PHS wrestling coach Troy Woosley said. "The numbers have been jumping 30 to 50 girls every year for the last three years and more. I think there were close to 300 girls that were at the state qualifier this year at Thurston."
Philomath has a history of girls on its wrestling roster, including this past season with juniors Rio Jensen and Jaime Chambers. Unfortunately, both Chambers and Jensen suffered knee injuries. Chambers missed the whole season and Jensen had four matches before she was sidelined.
"Both are coming back next year," Woosley said. "We also have an eighth-grader that I think is going to wrestle."
Marissa Loyd, who graduated in 2017, had a good run in wrestling during her time with the Warriors.
"Everyone was surprised when she wanted to go out for the football team that year and she kinda turned some heads and we're like, 'holy cow,'" Woosley said. "I think she changed a lot of views on what could happen, what should happen or whatever else. She was a great role model."
Chambers also wrestled as a sophomore and Jensen came out for this just-completed season. Loyd wrestled her last two years of high school and although she's not the first girl to suit for the program, she was the first since Woosley came to Philomath in 2006. Woosley had coached girls in earlier years, however, at Alsea.
There have been major girls tournaments under the organization of the Oregon Wrestling Association. The girls event that takes place on state weekend has been considered an exhibition.
Beginning next season, girls wrestling will be organized into two districts. The OSAA executive board recommended a maximum of 10 weight classes with those still to be determined. The two medalists in each weight class at each district meet would move on to state.
Girls will still be allowed to wrestle in the boys' district tournament but must declare beforehand in which one they intend to compete.
A few girls qualified for the state wrestling tournament that just wrapped up Feb. 17 in Portland and Gervais freshman Alexys Zepeda won a third-place medal in Class 3A's 113-pound weight division.
Oregon becomes the eighth state to sanction girls wrestling nationwide, the others being Washington, California, Texas, Alaska, Hawaii, Tennessee and Georgia.
When asked if girls need to be coached any differently than the boys, Woosley said their flexibility gives them abilities to complete different moves.
"They're so flexible, most of them, that you've got to have different kinds of pin holds," he said. "They're pretty tough to pin, the guys will tell you, they're so flexible, and it makes you do things a little differently."
Woosley, who started coaching in 1989, didn't think he'd ever see girls wrestling become sanctioned with the low numbers that were the norm for so many years.
"Even like six to eight years ago, there were girls but it wasn't like this," said Woosley, referring to the recent explosion in the number of participants. "I bet eight years ago, there weren't 100 girls (wrestling) in the state and now there's 300."
Woosley said Thurston and Hood River are two schools that really got girls wrestling rolling and the sport has really caught on at places such as Elmira and Cottage Grove.
"Last year, I think Elmira had nine and Cottage Grove had eight and Thurston had 19," Woosley said. "Thurston had another 19 or 20 this year. And now Sweet Home, they had six girls on the team."
Woosley credited Elmira coach Scott Shannon, who is part of a national association for girls wrestling, for being instrumental in pushing for the sport to be sanctioned.