Anyone who checks ESPN.com surely knows by now the bit of controversy that was stirred up last week in Iowa at the state high school wrestling championships. Home-schooled Joel Northrup refused to wrestle Cassy Herkleman because she was a girl. He forfeited the match by default, simultaneously ruining any hope of a title. Whether you agree with his decision or the reasons for it, I think this is a good time to sit back and marvel at the sportsmanship of the two competitors.
First, it’s important to understand how big wrestling is in Iowa. The passion for football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, or even hockey in Canada could arguably be outdone by the passion for wrestling throughout the farms and cities of Iowa. These were high school championships, and they drew 6500 fans to Wells-Fargo Arena to Des Moines. Northrup chose to withdraw from this stage for which he probably worked his whole life to realize.
As cited through an article published on ESPN’s website, Northrup issued a statement that read: “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.” He went on to say that he has “tremendous” respect for Herkleman. Reactions to this by Herkleman or her parents have numerous possibilities. They could have taken shots about faith or home-schooling at the boy’s parents, or the boy himself. They could have done these things and few would have blamed them if they chose to react that way. Instead, they spoke words of respect and understanding for Northrup’s decision. Herkleman’s father said, “I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.” In a world where a lot of parents yell at the coaches for not giving their kid enough playing time, or become irate when an official calls a foul on their Little Johnny, this reaction is refreshing. It shows that there are still good parents out there who teach their kids the right view on sports. What the opponents and officials do is out of your control, and there is no sense getting mad over what is out of your hands.
People can wrestle with the right or wrong of Northrup’s religious beliefs. His father is a minister for an independent Pentecostal church that believes young men and women should not touch each other in a “familiar way.” People can wrestle with his father’s parenting skills, or insinuate that he pushed his beliefs on his child. People can even wrestle with whether girls and boys should wrestle each other in the first place – California, Washington, Hawaii, Texas and Tennessee are the only states that sponsor girls-only tournaments – but no one can wrestle with the integrity of the Northrup and Herkleman families. They are an example of the true definition of class and sportsmanship.