Iowa athlete wrestles with tough decision

Puberty, man. There's not a person in the world that skates through those years without at least a few awkward tales to tell down the line. Peter Brady might have said it best: "When it's time to change, you've got to rearrange." Well, as if dealing with hormones and voice cracks and training bras wasn't tough enough, today one young Iowa wrestler was faced with the prospect of having to wrestle a girl. And I mean really wrestle, not "wrestle."

Joel Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore with a 35-4 record this season, defaulted in the opening round of the Iowa state wrestling tournament because he didn't want to face a female opponent, freshman Cassy Herkelman. You can read the full story here.

Looking back on my years of competing, I can't imagine anything could have kept me from participating at a state meet. Then again, I was never put in the unusual position that Northrup and Herkelman were today. I've played sports with and against guys for years, and I never minded being one of a few girls (or the only one) in the mix -- but there's a differences between a game of, say, basketball and wrestling.

Said Northrup, "...wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. 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."

If he felt some sort of need to protect Herkelman from the violence of the sport, he's sorely misguided. She chose to compete, and she competed well enough to qualify for the state meet. The physical nature of sport is, by definition, what makes it sport, so no one would have complained had he beaten her fair and square in an athletic competition. The best way to show respect for Herkleman and her accomplishments would have been to compete against her.

On the other hand, it's tough to tell whether Northrup is actually concerned about harming Herkelman or if he's just worried about accidentally touching parts of her that he might never have touched on a girl before. If he or his parents were uncomfortable with the prolonged physical contact and the very high possibility that he might grab, for lack of a better term, a "lady part," then I suppose it's tough to reprimand him for defaulting. When actions are motivated by faith, it's usually not advisable to argue with them.

The good news for both wrestlers is that Herkelman moves on in the tournament and, because Northrup defaulted and didn't forfeit, he can still try to advance via the consolation rounds. Of course, in an ideal world, Herkelman would have earned her own way to the next round and not advanced by default, and Northrup wouldn't have felt uncomfortable competing against a girl. But the fact that Snooki has a best-selling book and The Situation is estimated to have made $5 million in 2010 is proof enough that this world is far from ideal.