Are high school athletics in California sufficiently liberated to welcome female wrestling?
In growing corners of the state, the answer is yes.
About 320 girls from 80 schools competed in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Regional Tournament last weekend at Sacramento's Inderkum High. Mike Moyer, the Inderkum wrestling coach, said it was the largest field in the event's six-year history. The Southern California Regional is scheduled for this weekend in Covina.
"As the sport has gotten bigger and more sophisticated, we're now seeing teams with a full roster of women," Moyer told The Sacramento Bee last week. "Some girls even have their own coaches."
In fact, separate female tournaments are conducted almost every weekend through Northern California from late November to late this month. CIF spokesman Quwan Spears said a state wrestling championship for girls in 2011 is in "the talking stages."
Moyer's reference to full girls teams appears to be the x-factor. The future of girls wrestling depends on girl-vs.-girl matches and practices, many coaches believe.
"To get it off the ground and be fair to the girls, it would have to be full girls teams," Escalon coach Derek Scott said. "To have just one or two girls in tournaments just puts the girls at a disadvantage. And you would get better participation if you have girls going against girls. I know I wouldn't want to practice all day and have no matches."
Meanwhile, Moyer encourages female athletes to try something new and blaze a new trail.
"The sport is still new enough that even those who come in without a lot of experience can still do well," he said. "It's wide open a lot of times."
Los Banos has welcomed girls onto its team for several years. Gayla Garza, a 2008 graduate, wrestles for Menlo College. Today, the Tigers' varsity team includes junior Mabel Flores (130), who competes in all dual meets and leads the team in escapes. A knee injury sidelined her for the Regional at Inderkum.
Bear Creek and Golden Valley boast female athletes. Elsewhere in the section, Hogan, Valley and Terra Nova field full girls teams. Many will take part in the California Girls Invitational, the unofficial girls state meet, Jan. 29-30 in Hanford.
Los Banos coach Josh Adams said the door was opened when women's freestyle wrestling was staged at the 2000 Olympics.
"Most of the girls compete at the junior varsity level. We just happen to have an athlete (Flores) who can hang with the boys varsity," Adams said. "Girls wrestling is growing at the national level, too, where you're seeing more separation of the sexes."
NOTES — Los Banos senior Greg Hartman (147) placed second at the West Side Invitational in Firebaugh last weekend. ... One of the district's traditional rivalries was rekindled at Escalon's Engel Tournament last weekend when Adam Hammerbeck of Sonora met Garrett Avant of Oakdale in the 145-pound final. Hammerbeck's takedown in the closing seconds clinched a hard-fought 5-2 win. ... Coming up: The 28th Mid-Cal Classic at Gilroy on Saturday.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.