High school wrestlers who have been training and competing alongside their male counterparts will now be able to compete in state championships, meaning there will be 13 girls crowned in March.
Chris Haines, Gettysburg Area high schools wrestling coach, has been at the forefront of the fight for equality for young, female wrestlers.
“Historically speaking, we’ve gone through many things in which people don’t think females deserve equality,” said Haines. “We will always have doubters, we will always have people who stereotype. . .but the truth is that females belong and they should be provided with this opportunity.”
The Gettysburg Area School District sanctioned the sport in 2020, leading the charge and becoming just one of ten schools in Pennsylvania with an official girl’s team.
“Here at Gettysburg we’ve always recognized our girls and their accomplishments whether it’s PIAA or not,” Haines said. “I think for us here it’s an aspect that now when you win a state championship, you’re gonna get a banner in the main gym, just like all of our other state champions in all sports.”
Haines, who has served as Gettysburg’s head coach since the 2016-17 school year, noted that it is not going to be a seamless transition and that there will be obstacles. The main concern the former Warrior wrestler has is that scheduling will be complicated.
Haines worries that it will be hard for individual schools to ensure they have enough coaches for both girls’ and boys’ programs. Haines said there is also a shortage of officials for all high school sports and with the addition of another sport, these will be scheduling issues for wrestling officials who will be stretched thin.
Despite the challenges Haines knows are to come, he is excited about the continuing growth of girls participating in the sport and believes that the numbers will only continue to increase in light of the recognition athletes, and the sport as a whole, will gain due to the PIAA sanctioning.
“The more girls that you get, the more girls that they recruit,” Haines said. “It’s just a growth process, very similar to what takes place with the boys. I think now it’s going to be recognized a little bit more outside of our school district.”
Haines is proud that everyone involved in his program puts student-athletes’ success at the forefront of their agenda and that they have created a welcoming culture.
“We obviously love to win, but we want to produce student-athletes that are going to win in life,” Haines said. “I think [the] environment on both sides, our boys and girls side, create a culture that permits, allows, welcomes [and] recruits males and females and [has] created an environment that is positive and makes people feel like they belong.”
The former wrestler who placed a career-high 4th in the AAA class during his tenure with the Gettysburg program knows firsthand the impact wrestling can have on students. However, Haines believes girls are impacted the most by the empowerment that comes with being a wrestler.
“It gives them a higher level of self-confidence, self-awareness, body image, everything,” Haines said. “It is a risk a lot of time for a young lady to put a singlet on and go out on the mat and wrestle and be all alone.”
Gettysburg High School tries to foster girl’s interest in the sport by holding a camp specifically for female wrestlers every year. This year the camp will be held from June 26 to June 29 at the school and around 40 female wrestlers have already registered.
The camp will have three guests including Cassidy Farrell, Samara Chavez, and Montana DeLawder. Farrell became the first female head wrestling coach at Virginia High in 2022 and was a collegiate All-American while at King University. Haines calls Farrell a “Pennsylvania pioneer”.
Samara Chavez will also attend from Texas. Chavez wrestles at King University and is a multi-time All-American. An alumnus of Gettysburg high school, Montana DeLawder, will return as well. The rising King University junior is a four-time Pennsylvania State Champion and a collegiate All-American.
“It’s a great camp for girls of all experience levels,” Haines said. “We have great facilities that we can break the groups up to make sure that the girls are getting the best benefits that we can offer.”
Haines said the camp will take participants all the way until the morning of.
“We don’t cut [registration] off,” Haines said. If somebody brings a friend that particular day, then we make sure that they get the opportunity to wrestle. “
As for the future of female wrestling, especially at the high school level, Haines hopes there is a boom in growth.
“I just want to see the numbers blow up,” Haines said. “I want to see every school have a program. I want to see every school have 15-plus girls in their program. I think the PIAA has taken that next step to help the growth of the sport and I think we’ll see big jumps in our numbers over the next several years”
Haines wants people to remember that just because the fight for sanctioning is over, female wrestling still needs support in order for it to continue to grow. Haines believes that if the sports is continued to be promoted it will continue to grow.
Thanks to the PIAA for sanctioning the sport and to those such as Haines that continue to advocate for girls wrestling, there will continue to be opportunities for girls to compete at the highest levels, and have the same opportunities as boys, in a sport they love.