Crowd applauds board’s decision on girls wrestling

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Tomi Gebhard stands at the podium during the Prairie du Chien Board of Education meeting. More than 50 people were in the audience. Many parents and students attended to support the girls wrestling program. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

Board approves school board’s decision to designate staff for program


By Steve Van Kooten


In the middle of the May 13 Prairie du Chien Board of Education meeting, a crowd of more than 50 people gave the board members a round of applause after they approved the hiring of an assistant girls wrestling coach for the 2024–25 season.

In attendance were school board members Michael Higgins, Jr., Lonnie Achenbach, Nick Gilberts, Jim Hackett, Dustin Brewer and Lacey Anthony. Also present were District Administrator Andy Banasik, Elementary School Principal Laura Stuckey, Bluff View Principal Tomi Gebhard, High School Principal Doug Morris and Vicki Waller.

Proponents of girls wrestling, including several wrestlers, coaches and supporters, publicly spoke in favor of the program, trumpeting the sport’s booming popularity with young girls.

According to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), 229 Wisconsin high schools entered a girls wrestling team into a regional tournament in 2023, a 64 percent increase from the previous year. The number of girls competing in a state qualifier increased by 85 percent in the same time frame.

The Prairie school district had one girl wrestler for the 2023–24 season, and Banasik estimated three to four more wrestlers will move from the middle school to the high school next year. Those numbers would make Prairie’s team comparable to Richland Center (2–3 members) and slightly behind Platteville, Lancaster and Dodgeville, who all reported a five-member team, according to documentation provided by the school district.

Achenbach said the school district backed girls wrestling as an official school sport in January 2023, which allowed the wrestlers to participate in WIAA events, including girls-only tournaments. Club sports — sports without the school district’s backing — are not eligible for WIAA events.

“In order for a program to participate in a WIAA tournament series and the sport as a whole, they have to be recognized as a sport from their respective school,” said Mel Dow, associate director for the WIAA.

Girl-against-girl matches are important because a female wrestler cannot obtain records (i.e., wins, losses and other data used to measure performance) for seeding purposes from inter-gender matches.

“So, if a young lady competes against a boy in the regular season and then enters a tournament series, those results don’t help her in the seeding criteria,” said Dow.

Banasik said the school district funded the girls program in the 2023–24 school year by providing transportation with school vehicles and the use of school facilities for practice, paying entry fees and purchasing singlets for the 2022–23 team.

But the question on everybody’s mind was, would approve financial support for a girls wrestling coach?

According to the district’s cost analysis, a paid head coach would cost between $4,436 and $5,076 and an assistant wrestling coach would cost between $2,773 and $3,713 for the 2024–25 school year.

“Adam [Campbell] and Mike [Rogge] came forward to ask if a paid coach would be a possibility,” said Banasik. Along with Achenbach,  the three of them came up with multiple options for the program.

The first option was to maintain a volunteer coach for the program, and the school would continue to provide all other financial support. The second option would expand Rogge’s role from boys wrestling head coach to include the girls team, with an assistant coach hired specifically for the girls program. The third option added a head and assistant girls wrestling coach to the school district’s roster. Banasik recommended the second option.

“For next year, Mike becomes the head female and male wrestling coach, and the assistant would attend tournaments and practices. Just like in the past, the vans will be used for travel, and we will support the singlets.”

According to Dowe, 20 percent of girls programs have separate coaching staff from the boys programs, but the WIAA does not mandate school programs to have separate staff or to have paid coaches at all. He added that the number of schools with coaches specifically for the girls programs was increasing.

“Some hire a coach and designate a schedule right off the get-go... each school is different,” said Dow. 

“The programs that are putting resources specific to the girls are the ones seeing the most significant growth.”

When the board approved Banasik’s recommendation, he confirmed the district would initiate the hiring process for an assistant coach position in the future.

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