Girls wrestling in Pennsylvania made historic strides on Saturday, hosting one of the first girls tournaments in the state. Five schools competed at Governor Mifflin High School in the midstate’s first event of this kind.

Annville-Cleona, Easten, Gettysburg, Governor Mifflin and J.P. McCaskey brought their newly formed girls teams to Shillington to compete. These are just five of the nine schools in the state to sponsor girls wrestling programs this winter. For many of the girls on the mat, this was their first taste of competition.

“At first I was completely nervous, but after the first match I kind of got used to it,” said McCaskey senior Deja Nortey. “The adrenaline calmed down. It was a release of energy basically and then I could let it all out on the mat.”

Before the 2020-21 winter season, girls who wanted to compete in wrestling at the high school level had to do so on boys teams.

“It’s something that’s a work in progress,” said Gettysburg senior Ella Santoyo. “You’re not going to be great at it the first time but that doesn’t mean that girls can’t try it.”

Sanction PA, a movement to offically recognize girls wrestling, hopes to change that and bring more equality and opportunity to high school wrestling.

“We are on now this upward trajectory of growth,” said Brooke Zumas of the Sanction PA group.

For decades there have been individuals working to recognize girls wrestling with little statewide traction. In recent years, those individuals came together to form Sanction PA to increase advocacy efforts for girls wrestlers.

“Those efforts have always been there,” Zumas said. “We have all these people on board, and [January 2020] is when we took a really clear direction in understanding the PIAA bylaws. For a long time, that was the little piece that was lacking.”

For the PIAA to recognize girls wrestling as an official sport and grant these athletes their own state tournament, 100 schools across Pennsylvania need to sponsor girls wrestling teams. Sanction PA set a goal to start this season with 10 to prove that there is interest and that teams can successfully compete.

“Now we have a goal and we know what to do,” Zumas continued. “We have nine schools right now and we know we have a bunch more in the pipeline. I think there’s a ton of interest beyond that. We’re waiting for certain areas [who] want to see how the team that formed does and what it looks like [this season].”

With almost three dozen wrestlers on the mat in central Pennsylvania and other girls wrestling events near Pittsburgh, the sport continues to gain more traction in 2021.

“Wrestling is just going to keep on growing, especially with girls,” Nortey said. “I remember when I [wrestled] in 8th grade, I didn’t know about any of these tournaments or matches. I’m just glad the opportunity arose.”

The next midstate girls wrestling event is Saturday, Jan. 30 at Gettysburg High School.