Spring Grove High School Officially Launches Women’s Wrestling Team

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Tony Miller is still amazed at how much women’s wrestling has grown over her career.

And he is proud that his school is now part of this growth.

The Spring Grove Area School District School Board approved a proposal to create an all-girls wrestling program on Monday night. Spring Grove is now the first high school in York County to make women’s wrestling an official sport. The team will begin the competition next year.

Spring Grove is the 51st school in Pennsylvania to launch an all-girls wrestling program. If this number reaches 100, women’s wrestling may be sanctioned as an official sport by the PIAA.

“If you had told me 25 years ago that women’s wrestling would be an official sport, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Miller, the legendary former Spring Grove wrestling coach who is still an assistant on the program. . “But it’s not crazy now. It’s growing and growing. We’re super excited.”

Considered one of the fastest growing sports in the country, women’s wrestling has exploded in Pennsylvania in recent years.

But while there are 32 state high school associations that sanction a state girls wrestling championship tournament, the PIAA is not one of them. The PIAA’s reasoning is that its bylaws require 100 schools to sponsor a sport before it can be sanctioned. Local coaches have long argued that the PIAA’s position actually prevents the sport from being sanctioned.

However, women’s wrestling advocates have become proactive over the past three years in encouraging schools to sponsor the sport themselves in order to reach the 100-school mark. Lancaster’s JP McCaskey became the first school to create a team in March 2020. Gettysburg ― set to join Mid-Penn’s next school year ― became the first York Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association school to create a team in October 2020.

Spring Grove wrestling coaches Tyke Conover (left) will take over from Tony Miller (center) who spearheaded the creation of a wrestling program for girls at the school.

An independent event called MyHouse PA High School Girls State Championships has been held for the past few years – first at Gettysburg High School, then Spooky Nook Sports, then Central Dauphin this year. Over 250 girls participated in the event this year.

And while there were just 15 schools with official teams last October, the sport is now more than halfway to its goal of 100.

“Wrestling is such a great sport that teaches so many life lessons and character traits,” Spring Grove head coach Tyke Conover said. “I’ve been around the freestyle wrestling scene and there’s a huge female component to it. It’s a perfect opportunity. (Gettysburg coach) Chris Haines has been such a leader in that area locally and we’re trying to imitate what he did.

Put a plan in motion

Olympians Steven Frazier (left), Helen Maroulis (center) and Adeline Gray (right) pose with female student-athletes at Spring Grove High School on Monday, October 18, 2021.

Spring Grove had talented female wrestlers in the past. One of them, Kayla Kehr, who graduated in 2020, enjoyed national success early in his high school career.

But most of those girls either dropped out of the sport or didn’t want to compete at the high school level as they got older, according to Miller and Conover. The coaches said one of the main factors was that these girls were at a disadvantage compared to boys who were naturally taller and stronger at that age.

Miller said he remembers a standout New Oxford wrestler named Rachael Groft ― who went on to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials ― having faced Spring Grove State Champion Brian Polashuk in the mid-2000s.

“It becomes difficult for the wrestling boys because they are more physically developed,” Conover said. “It’s definitely better for girls to fight girls.”

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Related:Why doesn’t Pennsylvania still have a women’s wrestling tournament?

Last October, American Olympians and wrestlers Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis visited Spring Grove High School to speak to students about mental health in athletics and using sport to achieve life goals. Gray pointed out that she went .500 against the boys during her high school career in Colorado before becoming a five-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist against the women.

After this event, Miller and Conover decided to host a “try it” wrestling night for girls of all ages in the community at Spring Grove Middle School. Miller said nearly 30 girls showed up.

“We were blown away,” Miller said. “We didn’t know what the interest would look like. But the great thing about wrestling is that it can be for everyone. Whether you’re tall or short, tall or short, there’s a place for you. .”

Spring Grove ended up running a “pilot program” for the sport last season and brought in 10 girls for the men’s varsity team. Four of them (Bella Gable, Paige Costella, Alexis Bastress and Racheal Fadare) competed in the PA High School Girls State Championships.

Miller and Conover said the level of interest around the sport remained high during off-season practices, which led to a proposal being presented to the school board.

“We want to give the kids as many opportunities as possible and that’s another thing to expand their horizons,” Spring Grove athletic director Jeff Laux said. “The kids had a blast last year and the girls are thrilled.”

How the program will work

Adding a new sport to a school district brings new costs related to uniforms, travel, and tournament fees, among others. Laux said the girls’ wrestling program will create about $2,000 in additional expenses for next year, but those will be covered by fundraising efforts led by the coaching staff. He said the athletic department’s budget will be adjusted in future years to include the program at no additional cost.

Conover will oversee the girls’ team and train regularly with the boys’ team, as is usually the case with a swim or track team. The school is looking to hire another assistant coach who will work with the women’s team. Miller said it would be “great to find a female coach” if possible.

Miller and Conover said they would like to have 20 girls from seventh grade through high school in the program next year. There are 13 weight classes in women’s wrestling ― the same number as the men’s sport, but at different levels.

Spring Grove is still working out a schedule, but a number of girls’ wrestling tournaments have been held at schools like Central Mountain and Gov. Mifflin in recent years. Girls’ exhibition matches are sometimes held before boys’ doubles matches. And Gettysburg hosted Big Spring in the first women’s wrestling double meet in District 3 history last season, which means similar events could take place in the future.

Spring Grove coaches hope their team is just the start of the sport in York County. Legendary Dallastown coach Dave Gable worked to create an all-girls team at his school after retires as boys coach in May. Miller said South Western explored creating a program. And York College recently created a women’s team that will be led by former Brian Gross, West York coach.

“I hope we can continue to provide opportunities and even scholarships for some girls,” Miller said. “While we hope to have 20 (next year), we would like even more than that. The girls we have had are resilient and tough.”

Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, [email protected] or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.


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