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The sport of women's wrestling has seen a surge in participation in the last five years

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lana Hunt, left, unattached, and Marie Seely of Southwestern Oregon compete in the 116-pound weight class at the Oregon Wrestling Classic in Redmond. In a match that was close early, Hunt won by fall.Women wrestling was once a novelty reserved for seedy bars or the farcical world of professional wrestling.

However, that is no longer the case.

A few years ago, a high school girl would occasionally decide to wrestle and once in a great while one would even make a boys varsity team in one of the lower weight classes.

In recent years, that has changed dramatically.

Not only are more girls competing in wrestling, they are achieving much greater success than in the past.

This year's Oregon Wrestling Classic saw not only women's collegiate wrestling, which has been at the tournament for several years now, but there were also divisions for both high school and youth girls.

Last year, a few high school girls competed in an individual tournament, while this year, the girls tournament had a team competition just like the boys, with Hood River Valley, Bend, Thurston and Sweet Home all fielding complete teams of wrestlers.

It is in collegiate women's wrestling, though, where the biggest changes are taking place.

Just a couple of years ago, the women's wrestling at the Classic wasn't even worth the trouble of watching.

That was far from the case this year as the tournament was highly competitive with several nationally ranked wrestlers competing.

Truthfully, many schools first added women's wrestling in order to be in compliance with Title Nine, a 1970s-era law that ensured women equal opportunity in athletics.

Adding women's teams not only helped schools comply with the law, it was also a way to help save men's collegiate wrestling.

Groups like Restore Oregon Wrestling worked hard to return wrestling to colleges who had once proud histories in the sport, but had, for whatever reason, dropped their men's programs.

By adding both men's and women's programs, the schools were able to resume wrestling, while remaining in compliance with the law.

At first, women's wrestling seemed like an afterthought, with schools scrambling to fill roster spots with anyone willing to take up the sport.

However, women's wrestling has turned a corner.

The wrestling I saw at this year's Oregon Wrestling Classic was fast, competitive and exciting.

Perhaps even more importantly, the National Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association has made a great decision. Unlike men's wrestling, they have chosen to compete under the same rules as international wrestling, something men's wrestling should also do.

The result is that not only is the sport fast and exciting, it is developing wrestlers who are competitive on the world stage.

Women's wrestling has held world championships since 1987, but until recently the United States was far behind nations like Japan, China and France.

The first U.S. world champion was Sandra Bavher, who won the light heavyweight division clear back in 1999.

However, she accomplished that feat with virtually no support from the established wrestling community.

Since then, the United States has had several other world champions, including Adeline Gray, who has amassed four world titles.

The United States now has 16 world championships and 74 total medals at world championships.

Japan, which has dominated the sport, has earned 86 world championships and 155 medals.

Justina Di Stasio, an assistant coach at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which was one of the teams competing at this year's Classic, won a world title for Canada in 2018 in Budapest, Hungry.

Simon Fraser finished second to Menlo College, California, in this year's Classic, and Di Stasio's coaching was a big part of the reason why.

With youth and girls wrestling taking off, and women's wrestling finally earning a foothold in the world of collegiate sports, it's only a matter of time before the U.S. becomes a dominant world power in the sport.

That's a good thing. More importantly, the sport is giving more women a chance to compete in collegiate sports, and that's a good thing.

I'll admit, I was slow to jump on the bandwagon. Women's wrestling just wasn't my thing, but after this year's Classic, I am a believer. Love it or hate it, the sport is here to stay, and whatever you might think, it's fun to watch.

Lon Austin is the sports editor for the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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