Maine will join a growing group of states to sponsor a separate girls’ high school wrestling championship when its inaugural state meet is held Wednesday at Penobscot Valley High in Howland.

More than 60 girls, representing nearly 30 schools, are expected to compete in eight weight classes.

“I like it because there are a lot of disadvantages going against guys, and it’s also a lot of fun and you can meet new people,” said Skowhegan sophomore Rachel Tuck, a third-year wrestler who plans to compete in the 132-pound weight class after posting a 22-17 record at 126 during the season.

Patrick Casten, the meet director and a wrestling official, saw the need for a sanctioned state championship after officiating the unofficial girls’ states held by Maine USA Wrestling.

“I saw how it was a good tournament and it felt like a legitimate event, and I also believe it’s good for young women to get confidence at an early age, and wrestling can be an instant confidence booster,” Casten said.

The weight classes are 106, 113, 120, 132, 145, 160, 182 and 220 pounds.

To participate, girls have had to wrestle at least one varsity match for their high school team.

Camden Hills junior Kristina Kelly, a first-year wrestler, easily met that criteria. She is 18-10 this season and qualified for last Saturday’s Class A state championship, where she went 0-2. But she was also wrestling above her natural weight because her male teammates at 113 and 120 pounds were better than her.

“So I had to wrestle at 126. This is my first chance to drop to 113 and see how well I can do against kids when I’m not giving up 10 pounds,” said Kelly. “It’s not that (girls) are always outmuscled, but for the most part boys do have a strength advantage and most of the girls haven’t wrestled that long so we can’t compensate with a skill advantage.”

According to USA Wrestling, 14 states are sponsoring girls’ high school championships this season, up from six states just two years ago.

Oregon, Georgia, Missouri and Massachusetts are other states holding a girls’ championship for the first time this season.

“We’ve watched our girls wrestle and wrestle hard every week,” said Mike Bisson, an assistant executive director and the wrestling liaison for the Maine Principals’ Association. “It just seemed like a good time to give them their own championship.”

Girls have been actively wrestling on boys’ teams in Maine since 1996, when Maine became the 20th state to rule wrestling a co-ed sport.

Four girls have won Maine regional championships, including a current senior, Zoe Buteau of Lisbon/Oak Hill. Buteau won the 120-pound Class B South title as a junior. This season, wrestling at 132 pounds, she lost the regional final 8-7 to Josh Burgess of Wells and placed fourth at the state meet.

No girl has won a Maine championship in the open tournament, though Deanna (Rix) Betterman of Marshwood narrowly missed becoming the first girl in the nation to win a state title when she lost in overtime at 130 pounds in the 2005 Class A final.

The next year, Michaela Hutchison of Alaska became the first girl in the country to win a state title while wrestling against boys.

Participation rates in high school wrestling for girls has grown nationally every year since 1990. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18 – the last two years of data from the National Federation of State High School Associations – the sport had a 13 percent growth.

In Maine, participation rates for female wrestlers have fluctuated over that period. Bisson said the number of girls wrestling in Maine actually decreased this year, “but I think when the word gets out (about the girls’ championship) that will spur another growth. If we can get more girls involved, that’s good for the sport.”

An Olympic sport since 2004, women’s wrestling also is growing at the collegiate level, with 48 programs.

The University of Maine club team, led by a four-time national champion, Samantha Frank of Windham, was third at the 2018 National Wrestling Coaches Association national tournament.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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