Questions of Victory as Iowa Girl Wins Wrestling Match … By Default

Photo of Cassy Herkelman "Winning" a Wrestling Match
In terms of gender equality, sports are kind of a dicey area.  Realistically speaking, there are certain physical differences in men and women that render competition in certain sports … well, uh, not exactly fair.  While I am all for keeping gender out of it, you have to admit that a 300 pound senior linebacker could potentially cause serious damage to a 5’1” 98-pound freshman who decides to go out for the football team, no matter how agile or athletically gifted she might be.

Because competitors are divided by weight class, wrestling is one of the sports that you could make a legitimate unisex argument for.  In fact, I see no reason in the world to keep female wrestlers from taking on their similar-sized male counterparts.

Iowa’s Joel Northrup, however, feels otherwise.  After being matched against female wrestler Cassy Herkelman, Linn-Mar’s Northrup refused to compete against her at the recent Iowa state wrestling meet.

From the Des Moines Register:

Northrup did not speak with the media, but did release a written statement:

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan (Black, the tournament’s other female entrant) and their accomplishments. However, 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. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most of the high school sports in Iowa.”

You know, Joel Northrup is a buffoon.  He was either scared of the looming stigma of being beaten by a girl or he’s a misogynistic twerp.  Or both.

Of greater concern to me, though, is that Cassy Herkelman made history at the meet as the first female wrestler to win a match at this popular tournament … and it comes with a “won by default” footnote.

That totally sucks.  With all the Title IX stuff out there, with the leaps and bounds that have been made in female athletes being taken seriously (ESPNW notwithstanding), why is it that a female wrestler had the opportunity for a legitimate win taken from her?

Let’s step back for a moment.  What if Joel Northrup had declined to fight a male wrestler to whom he was matched?  He would be ranked to the dogs and back.  This is a clear case of sexism, of a female athlete being singled out for her gender.

Although Northrup obviously gave up his chance to advance in the meet, I feel like he should be further penalized.  I just can’t help it … talk about a low blow.

And it just opens up a huge can of worms.  “I won’t wrestle her because she’s a girl” could very easily lead to “I won’t wrestle him because he’s African-American” or “I won’t wrestle him because he’s openly homosexual.”  I really believe that something has to be said, that an example has to be made of this.

It’s certainly not going to come from the powers that be at Linn-Mar.

[Northrup’s] coach Doug Streicher did not speak with the media after the match.

Linn-Mar Athletic Director Scott Mahmens did speak with the media, and said Northrup’s parents are not at the tournament. Mahmens added that nobody from the school tried to influence Northrup, who is home schooled, to wrestle or not wrestle.

“He’s a Linn-Mar Lion, and we’re going to support what he’s doing,” Mahmens said. “Obviously his beliefs are more important to him (than a chance at a state title).”

In this day and age of frivolous lawsuits and ridiculous news stories, shouldn’t something be done about such a clear violation in … I don’t know, human decency?

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58 thoughts on “Questions of Victory as Iowa Girl Wins Wrestling Match … By Default

    • I completely agree Joey. I never figured wrestling as a combat sport. I’m sure the young man was uncomfortable putting his hands in certain places. It was his decision and he refused respectfully and intelligently. He never said women don’t belong in the sport, only that he was certain beliefs and was true to himself. He lost a major title by his default but stood by his convictions.

    • Agreed. He should be commended for standing by his convictions. Her win was obviously not the first one if she made it to the meet. Others did and will wrestle with her. He did not.
      Mo- great points.
      I’m with the guys on this one…and I fought for the right to be a female journalist in the world of men’s college sports.

    • I’m still trying to post my picture V,for some reason i can’t seem to get Gravatar to send me a confirmation email. i’m working on it as I speak.

    • V – I just discovered via Katie’s blog that she had surgery on the 22nd!
      I am pissed.
      Ms. Loud! We are to be informed when anything momentous happens!
      I hope you’re feeling better :)

      • Haha, thanks, Blur :-) First day with no Oxy, woohoo … fortunately, it’s a snow day. I didn’t think anyone here even read my blog … guess I’ll have to watch what I say ;)

        • Thanks Blurry…I thought maybe she got pissed at us!

          Hey child, yes you should let us know what’s going on!! I used to read your blog, but you NEVER POSTED ANYTHING NEW! Hope all is going well with your health. Going to your blog now.

  1. I so disagree with you on this one. Firstly for him it was a matter of his faith, and being a gentleman. He forfeited which says a lot. There are many faiths that would view wrestling between the genders as being completely inappropriate as vchilds says especially as to where he would have to put his hands and his whole body for that matter.

    To use your own argument against you, where does religious tolerance and respect come in here. If we want and if Miss Herkelman wants the freedom to wrestle where is the respect for this guy to stand true to his faith and to have the freedom to stand up for his faith. Tolerance comes in many shapes and sizes. Reminds me of Chariots of Fire.

    It is refreshing to see a young man stay true to his convictions and to have a clear respect for woman. One of the things that sometimes really irks me is that as feminists the bath water and baby have both been thrown out. By that I mean that many men no longer respect females nor their femininity. I find that very sad. We want equality but we lost respect in the process. Why can’t we as females celebrate our unique differences instead of wanting to become like males. This does not make any kind of sense to me.

    • So women shouldn’t wrestle because it means they’re trying to become like males?
      Women deserve the right to do the things they want to do as much as men do. That’s the backbone of the notion of equality.


      I don’t know where you get the idea that women were respected by men when they had fewer rights.
      Perhaps they were treated more gently, but that is not the same thing as respect.


      I take no offense when a man holds a door open for me. But I am just as likely to hold a door open for a man.

      I would not trade all the door opening, chair pulling or puddle draping in the world for the very real respect I see men giving to my mother when she opens her mouth in a meeting.

  2. Buffoon or misogynist. These are really our only options?


    If he’d been complaining about girls being in the sport, I’d agree with the misogynist label. But that’s not what he did, so I don’t see how that label applies.


    As for buffoon, you really think a boy being unwilling to manhandle a girl makes him a buffoon?
    I don’t. I think it makes him a bad athlete.
    If I was his coach, I’d make him sit out a few matches as a penalty for not wrestling the opponent he was matched against.

    • What if he had no idea when he signed up for wrestling that he would be required to wrestle a female. If he wasn’t,and I was his old man,I’d file suit!

      • You can’t file a suit because you’re ignorant to the possibility that you may have to wrestle somebody of the opposite sex.
        If he was told explicitly that he would never wrestle a female, he might have a case.
        Although I think it’s highly unlikely that any such assurances were made, considering that women are allowed to compete in any sport they choose.


        At this point he needs to decide if he wants to have a future in wrestling. You can’t just refuse opponents all the time.
        I don’t think there’s any evidence that he’s a misogynist.
        But he is really naive to think that this won’t happen again, or that he’s doing what’s best for his team by refusing matches.


        It might also be a good time for him to learn the lesson that in real life you sometimes have to work outside of your comfort zone.
        If his faith is the issue, he may not want to wrestle an openly gay player either.


        Match ups in wrestling are determined by size and weight. If he’s going to have trouble wrestling somebody of adequate size and weight because of his beliefs, it’s time for him to get off the mat and find some sport that has no contact.
        Perhaps Track and Field…

        • He probably signed up for mens wrestling,if he wasn’t told it would be coed,he has a case. One could also argue that there is a difference between out and out refusal and forefit.

  3. I once dated someone with a strong religious streak, at first he would apologize for “Being forward” if he made even the slightest comment about any physical trait I have, there is no way he would have touched me after just meeting me, especially in any of the common holds wrestlers use. And it was because of his religious beliefs. And I respected his religious differences then, and I respect this kids religious differences now.

    • Respecting his religious differences is laudable.
      Accepting that he should be allowed to remain on a team that pushes the boundaries of his faith is not.
      Nobody is forcing him to wrestle. It’s against the law to refuse to let a girl to wrestle.
      He has a decision to make.


      The boyfriend that you mentioned would never choose a career as a bikini waxer or masseuse. If he did, and he refused to to work on the customers he was given because of his religious beliefs, he would quickly become unemployed, and likely unemployable.


      This is real life. In real life you cannot expect the world to tailor itself around your strict religious beliefs.
      If they are your beliefs, and you feel strongly about living up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself, it becomes your responsibility to interact with the world in a way that doesn’t force you to act against those beliefs.

      • Oh I totally agree that he needs to make a decision, I just disagree that he is sexist or stupid for refusing. When you think about high school wrestling do you instantly think about females? Because I’m betting he didn’t. Now he knows that this situation could come up again, and now he has to make a choice whether it really offends his religious beliefs or not. But ridiculing someone for their religious beliefs IS wrong.

  4. What I want to know is what kind shit has the girl been receiving since such an accomplished athlete forfeited his chances? I think that’s a more interesting question.
    He has the right to not participate, for whatever reason. If the school or district or sport’s governing body decides that his stance is cause for new legislation, THEN there is a real reason to be concerned. As it stands now, the article is a slippery slope argument with no real real fact to back it up.

  5. Methinks this post seems a bit harsh on the kid. You can’t just assume a teenage boy (homeschooled, and he talks about his faith, so I would guess he’s VERY religious) not wanting to crawl all over a chick and grab her is being sexist. I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that in high school–although I suppose that would be a good reason I didn’t do wrestling. Suggesting that refusing to wrestle a girl, with different sorts of wobbly bits than the guy, is similar to refusing to wrestle a black kid is just being simplistic. They’ve got nothing in common.
    Everyone has the right to default on a match, and there’s no reason to punish him. This wasn’t sexism, it was genuine discomfort (and probably more to do with sexual discomfort).

  6. I agree. Wrestling could easily become inappropriate between genders, I respect him in sticking to his faith and not putting himself in a dangerous situation. I was in show choir in high school and I had a male partner who, because of his faith, refused to do a certain lift that would require him to wrap is arm around my thigh, and I really respected him for that( even though him opting out forced me to the partnership of a real creeper who couldn’t wait to get his hands around my legs) I don’t think its fair to call him a buffon when he is merely keeping with his personal morals.

  7. I’ll tell ya another thing,in high school you can get wood sitting in math class,maybe he was worried about that. But I don’t really want to talk about it,I’m starting to tear up.

  8. Seriously, there is nothing wrong with sports segregated by sex. Boys and girls are different. She should butt out of a sport that was created for males.
    Conversely, boys should not play girl sports like soccer, softball and golf (or any “sport” invented by the English).

  9. I can’t blame the kid, but I think that the real reason is that he wasn’t comfortable with the some of the legitimate grabbing and holding that takes place in a wrestling match. Suffice it to say that most normal wrestling holds would get your face slapped on a typical first dates (look up the wrestling move “butt drag”!)

    The bit about “combat” is a PC cop-out – I’m sure this girl was more than capable of handling herself – she was just as likely to kick his butt as vice versa.

  10. My first reaction is to think of how disappointing this must have been for the girl – her win was cheapened, and she would have been more proud if she’d won fair and square. I think that’s sad.
    I think the guy has every right to do what he wants, but equating wrestling with combat makes no sense to me. Sports are ritualized combat, not real combat. The girl knew full well when she signed up for this that she could get her ass handed to her, just like any other wrestler. I wish this kid could have respected that. But I’m not going to knock his religious beliefs. If it meant that much to him, and he’s willing to accept the consequences for forfeiting, then that’s his prerogative.
    I’m never going to instill such harsh gender binaries in my children, because I think it would be unfair to them. If it were my son in this situation, I would hope he’d view his opponent as an athlete first and foremost, not a girl.

  11. Has this guy ever wrestled a female athlete before? If not, I say he should be allowed to respectively say no without criticism. From his words it sounds like he has never had a match with a female. This could be dipped in a deep pool of sexual discomfort.

  12. I think he has the right to decide not to wrestle. I don’t think that he has the right to pick and choose who to wrestle if he is going to be on the team. If the team is going to compete against females and he doesn’t want to wrestle females, he should not be on the team. Perhaps he could find another sport where he is more comfortable. As he said himself, participating in most of the high school sports in Iowa would not put him in this situation.
    If he didn’t know until the match that females were in the pool of contestants, then he had the right at that point to quit the team and not sign up for it again as long as there were females competing.

  13. I may disagree with this boy, but I think your characterization of ‘buffoon’ is ridiculous.
    If he wrote that letter, I think he’s anything but a buffoon. It sounds to me like he was uncomfortable, did not usually wrestle girls on his team and local matches, had not considered the possibility of such a match here, and simply decided that it was not okay for him.
    Perhaps he’s been taught that a boy doesn’t hit a girl. Perhaps he’s been taught that a boy doesn’t touch a girl in that manner.
    He made no stink about girls in wrestling, and did not expect any special accommodation. He said that his beliefs were more important to him than the match, and the thus defaulted.
    I think that is incredibly mature, and I applaud him for his lack of buffoonery.
    Now in the future, he’ll have to consider whether he’s going to continue wrestling if it’s going to continue to be a mixed sport, but that was a pretty reasonable way to handle a single situation for which he had not prepared.
    And I say this all a someone who is opposed to any segregation in sports.

  14. I am so glad many of the posts here are well thought out and the posters here are using common sense because when I read this article I wanted to throw my laptop at the wall.

    • Glad to be of service. Welcome to our intellectual salon where we discuss many issues of the day as they pertain to the advancement of women in the context of the evolving existential construct.

  15. I’m a wee bit confused on the faith issue. Is there some sort of passage in the Bible about not wrestling with women? And if the Bible for some very strange reason does sexualise wrestling, wouldn’t it then be wrong for him to wrestle with men as well? If it’s a sexual thing, then that would apply to either gender, would it not? Seems the real issue is his conservatism, and views on the female body- not his faith (unless that passage really does exist- in which case, someone needs to let me know what other sports are covered. I could be going to a deeper level of hell than I originally thought…)
    I find it problematic that the female body seems to be permanently sexualised- this girl will always be held back in terms of how people have structured their understanding of her body. She can’t simply be a powerhouse, a mass of agile muscle out to win a match. She has to a be a girl first, and a girl with sexualised parts which downplay her sporting abilities. Such a mentality will hold back women in sports, and I think it is worth analysing.
    In terms of the boy who backed down- well he was uncomfortable, and regardless of how we might think he should feel, he has to do what he is comfortable with. Of course we can criticise his decision, and the ways in which he came to this problematic understanding of females in sports, but in the end, it would have been even worse if he half-heartedly attempted to wrestle this girl and she won because he was too uncomfortable to try.

    • The kid is homeschooled and talks about his faith in his decision, which leads me to assume he has been taught that you can only touch a lady that way when you’re married. I bring up the homeschooled bit because I think quite a lot of kids who were homeschooleld tend to be fairly conservative and most of them were fed the “if you touch a girl before you’re married you’re going to hell” line.

    • I don’t think it’s clearly obvious exactly what the problem is, but I don’t blame the kid for not releasing a five-page treatise with all the details..

  16. Wow….I have to agree with Brian…I found this article troubling as well. This young man simply did what he felt was right. He used his judgment and did what he felt comfortable with. That must have been a hard decision to make, especially at his age.

  17. First of all wrestling IS a combat sport. Look it up. There’s a reason many of the most successful UFC fighters have a wrestling background.

    The Iowa high school STATE wrestling tournament has some of the best athletes in the nation, so the girl was obviously no slouch in getting there. However, she competes in one of the lowest weight classes, so a lot of her opponents are young and/or underdeveloped. Regardless, it is still brutal, and I can’t fault a kid for not wanting to enter into a bout with a girl. I can attest that at that age, physically fighting with a girl, with or without rules, wouldn’t have been an option to me either. That had NOTHING to do with being misogynist, it would’ve been out of respect, which is what Joel is admitting.

    Check out this headline: ‘Father of Linn-Mar wrestler Joel Northrup says of default to girl wrestler: ‘We spent a couple of days agonizing over this’ from: .

    The sophomore boy didn’t ‘back down’ either. He was 35-4 and rated 4th in the state’s largest class. The girl was 20-13 and not rated, then was quickly pinned in her next two bouts. Having to default eliminated him from a state championship (as well as at least 2nd place) and put him in a much more difficult situation for the wrestlebacks, so this was not a hasty decision.

  18. I know I’m late, but I just had to comment.

    I took karate for 6 years in elementary/high school. We learned some judo wrestling once we got into higher levels. Being the only girl, at 16, wrestling guys who ranged from 16 to 55 was a little awkward from time to time. I learned to dismiss the occasional erection as something the guy couldn’t control when they’ve got a teenage girl straddling them, pinning their legs down with hers, pinning their upper body with her chest, panting and breathing heavily. The guys were more likely to be embarrassed than I was. And that was wearing thick cotton uniforms. I can’t imagine having to hazard an erection in a singlet in front of a crowd.

  19. This fellow doesn’t want to wrestle a girl, you silly Americans should respect that. He doesn’t elaborate on the reasons, but everyone can think of many, and it’s not just fear of looking bad. How is this girl singled out because of her gender? She was handed the victory! All feminists rejoice! Now leave us men alone!

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