COLUMBUS — On Thursday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association voted unanimously to add girls wrestling and boys volleyball as emerging sports beginning with the 2022-23 school year.
“The OHSAA has been talking with the boys volleyball and girls wrestling leaders for several years and we are now in the position to bring these two sports into the OHSAA,” said OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute. “This move will help those sports continue to grow and allow those student-athletes to compete for an OHSAA state championship. It gives more kids opportunities and that is the mission of the OHSAA.”
As emerging sports, girls wrestling and boys volleyball will be administered like the OHSAA’s current 26 recognized sports, but will have additional requirements according to OHSAA General Sports Regulation 16 that could lead to full sanctioning in the future.
“We will look to keep a very similar format for the girls wrestling and boys volleyball tournaments as what the coaches associations have been doing,” Ute said. “The girls wrestling state tournament is held in mid-February and the boys volleyball state tournament is held in the spring. We have not yet developed tournament regulations, but we’ll start working on that so that those two sports hit the ground running next fall for the start of the 2022-23 school year.”
In Henry County, Napoleon and Liberty Center each have girls wrestlers on their wrestling teams. Napoleon has three female wrestlers — all freshmen — who have their own schedule of matches.
“I’ve always said that by the end of my career (girls wrestling) would be a sanctioned sport,” said Napoleon wrestling coach Jason Seiler. “Talk about something that is really exciting. No matter how good a girl is (wrestling) it is nearly impossible for them to compete against boys. To take this step forward is very exciting.”
Seiler said there have been female wrestlers in his program almost every season for the past decade. He pointed to wrestlers like Kaitlin Haskins and Taylor Illiff as pioneers for female wrestlers at Napoleon.
“I have had some really good girl wrestlers,” said Seiler. “I think about them all the time. They never had the chance to compete against other girls. I feel bad for those girls since they never got to reap the benefits of this.”
Alexus Shaneyfelt is the only female wrestler on the Liberty Center roster currently, but Tigers coach Troy Westhoven said the OHSAA vote will have an impact.
“If the state sanctions girls wrestling next year, I could see that number growing,” said Westhoven. “I think it’s a great step for the sport.”
Napoleon Athletics Director Andy Ham said the infrastructure for girls wrestling is already in place, making it easier for the school to add the sport.
Boys volleyball, however, would take much longer to put in place, if the interest is there.
“We are always looking for more opportunities for student-athletes,” said Ham. “We don’t have (boys volleyball) even as an intramural sport. If we start to explore that as a sport there is a lot of infrastructure we will have to deal with.”
Ham said he was a little surprised boys volleyball was voted on and not Esports. In the same press release from the OHSSA, it was noted the organization has been in conversations with Esports, which has grown rapidly at both the high school and college level.
Napoleon, according to Ham, would be a lot closer to having Esports as a recognized sport than boys volleyball since the infrastructure is already in place.
Esports has been played at Napoleon as a club sport for the past four years. The Wildcats won their first regional title in Esports in November.
In addition, the OHSAA board voted to move girls and boys lacrosse out of the emerging sports category and into the list of OHSAA recognized sports.
The OHSAA added lacrosse in 2016. The sport moves out of the emerging sports category effective immediately.
With the addition of girls wrestling and boys volleyball, the number of OHSAA sports grows to 28, with 14 for girls and 14 for boys.