DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa high school wrestler who was one of the favorites to win his weight class defaulted on his first-round state tournament match rather than facing one of the first girls to ever qualify for the event.
Joel Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore who was 35-4 wrestling for Linn-Mar High this season, said in a statement that he doesn't feel it would be right for him to wrestle Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman. Herkelman, who was 20-13 entering the tournament, and fellow 112-pounder Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black, who was 25-13, made history by being the first girls to qualify for the state tournament. Black was pinned quickly in her opening round match.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," wrote Northrup. "As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."
There were several thousand fans on hand Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena, but many were watching other matches when the referee raised Herkelman's hand to signal her win. There was a smattering of cheers and boos from the crowd before Herkelman was whisked into the bowels of the arena.
Tournament organizers declined to make Herkelman available for questions. Her next match is Friday.
In a text message to The Associated Press, her father, Bill Herkelman, said he understands the decision.
"It's nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round," Bill Herkelman wrote. "I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney."
Linn-Mar athletics director Scott Mahmens said the school would not penalize Northrup for defaulting. Because he defaulted and didn't forfeit, Northrup is eligible to compete in consolation rounds. Black will also compete in the consolation rounds.
Wrestling is hugely popular in Iowa, and this is the first time girls have qualified for the state tournament, which began in 1926.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, just more than 6,000 girls competed in wrestling in 2009-10 — compared with nearly 275,000 boys. Though most states require girls to wrestle boys, California, Hawaii and Texas now sponsor girls-only high school wrestling tournaments.