Girls against boys

Been getting the link to this story from a few readers.

14-year-old high school wrestler Cassy Herkelman became one of the first two girls to ever qualify for the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament. One of her first opponents, Joel Northrup, a self-described deeply religious student in Herkelman’s 112-lb weight class, defaulted rather than fight her. Herkelman later lost her next two matches.

As one commentator wrote, Herkelman was a serious contender: “She had gone 21-13 this season with eight pins, and in Iowa, that’s no joke. That’s arguably the most competitive state for high school wrestling, and Herkelman reached the state tournament fairly — by finishing second at district.”

The “girls against boys” motif is one that surfaces now and again in discussions of sport. It usually degenerates into male commentators who’ve never gotten on a mat in their lives going on about how they could never fight a girl (which is fine — I mean, really, how can I complain about men not wanting to hit me?), or some straw-people comparison of Imaginary Woman X vs Imaginary Man Y, which somehow stands in for 3 billion people fighting 3 billion other people in an infinite number of monkey-refereed wrestling matches with angels dancing on the head of a pin for the half time show.

Having grappled now for 4-ish years, one of the interesting things about fighting in general is that you never know what is going to happen. You can make general rules — for instance, no matter how skilled I am, my chances against a 300-pounder are grim — but when fighters are more closely matched (as in a weight class), anything can occur. Someone could screw up. Someone could get lucky. Someone could trump skill with brute force, or vice versa. That’s what makes it so exciting.

I once got caught in a lucky armbar by a 13-year-old kid on his second day in class, busting out a move he’d probably seen in the UFC. (One day I’ll go back to that school and whup his pimply ass.) Another day, perhaps, I might have caught him in something. You just never know.

Regardless of your opinions on the matter, I am reminded of an old judo instructor’s advice on this: No matter who you fight (or don’t), it’s your duty to bring them the best fight possible. Winning by default is no win at all. A serious competitor is looking for the best fight possible, and will be grateful for the opportunity to be challenged in a fair and engaging way. Serious competitors and athletes eat challenges for breakfast. They love the tough stuff. Beat them into the mat and they’ll come back for more. The only outcome that truly sucks is not to have the chance at all.