West High female wrestler reacts to state forfeit


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Fifteen-year-old Jasmine Bailey flashed a toothy smile when she spoke about her wrestling match against a particular 103-pound male.

The tiny West High freshman flipped the grappler from rival Waverly Shell Rock High School on his back in six seconds this season.

“I think watching my team’s reaction on camera after was one of the best moments,” Jasmine said on Sunday in the Field House.

Jasmine — West High’s lone female wrestler — has eight varsity victories, all against boys. But of those wins, six were forfeits.

So when Cassy Herkelman, a female freshman from Cedar Falls, advanced to the second round of the state wrestling tournament last week following a forfeit from a male wrestler, Jasmine was watching.

“I was cheering for them the entire time,” Jasmine said about Herkelman and Megan Black, a sophomore female wrestler who was also in the tournament. “It inspired me.”

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This year marked the first time in Iowa history that a girl qualified for the state wrestling championship — one of, if not the, most competive in the country — and two did so.

But when Joel Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore who wrestles with Linn-Marr High in Marion, decided he would rather give up his chances at a state championship rather than wrestle Herkelman, it made national headlines.

“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,” Joel said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high-school sports in Iowa.”

The incident has caused controversy over girls’ place in wrestling — is it sexist to refuse to wrestle them or is it respectful?

Christine Grant, a former Hawkeye women’s athletics director, said she supports wrestling teams for girls and women.

“We have a built-in bias on what girls ought to do and what they ought not do, and these biases are being challenged right, left, and center,” she said.

But Grant noted she understands Joel’s decision not to wrestle Herkelman.

Joel has been placed against a female wrestler twice in his 10-year career, said father Jamie Northrup, and the family left the decision entirely up to Joel, who “stood by his conviction.”

“[Joel is] a Christian kid and believes that girls should be treated with respect, not beaten into submission,” the elder Northrup said.

Jasmine said she believes it’s counterproductive when male wrestlers decide to forfeit a match because of the sex of their opponent.

“It’s unfortunate, because then everyone loses on-mat time and experience,” she said. “It’s mostly their faith and beliefs that [make them] not want to enter a combat with a female.”

Jasmine, who started observing her brothers’ wrestling matches when she was 3, picked up the sport in kindergarten, and by junior high, she was the team’s only female.

But Jasmine said her coach and teammates don’t treat her differently from any other wrestler.

“They are all really supportive, and they treat me like any other wrestler who works to be there,” she said.

Charlotte Bailey, Jasmine’s mother, said she was thrilled when she found out her daughter wanted to be on the junior-high and high-school teams.

“We’re a big wrestling family in a big wrestling state,” Charlotte Bailey said with a smile.

And George Bailey, Jasmine’s father, says he loves that both of his kids wrestle.

“It shows great work ethic for the kids and shows world perseverance,” he said. “If you take a loss, it’s on you. There’s no one else you can blame, and that takes strong character, that’s what we love about it.”

One of Jasmine’s teammates, West High sophomore Kegan Wakefield, said he doesn’t mind having a girl on the team.

“I have nothing against it at all,” he said. “She works just as hard as we do, so she should get the same opportunity that we get.”

He said he would not mind wrestling a girl if it came down to that.

“It’s definitely different, but if I have to wrestle [a girl], I would,” he said.

Mark Reiland, the head wrestling coach at West High, said he does not look at it as having a female on the team. Rather, he looks at it as having any other wrestler on the squad.

“If you treat it any different, then that’s when you run into a problem,” he said.

Reiland said the answer he typically receives from other coaches is that parents don’t want their sons to wrestle Jasmine and they can’t do anything about it.

“It’s not fair to her,” Reiland said. “Because she works hard and goes through the practices and deserves the opportunity as everyone else.”

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