When it comes to scholastic wrestling, Easton has always been a leader.
From the fundamentals taught in the room, to an approach to scheduling, to finding ways to support the program, and from developing a fan base, the Red Rovers have always been in the forefront of the sport.
And with the growth of girls wrestling, Jim Pokrivsak wants to keep it that way.
On Tuesday, the Easton Area School Board will vote on establishing girls wrestling as a separate sport, as proposed by Pokrivsak, the Red Rovers’ Athletic Director.
If the proposal passes, it will make Easton the second PIAA school to have an official girls program, after Lancaster McCaskey.
Once again, Easton is leading, and once again, it’s a joint effort.
Pokrivsak said he’s been working with the current wrestling staff, led by head coach JaMarr Billman, parents and the school’s booster club to come with a program that will work for all.
Girls have been wrestling at Easton for a while; Pokrivsak said that last season five girls participated on a consistent basis.
“If that number grows, which we hope it does, we want to be able to coach every wrestler in the room properly,” Pokrivsak said.
What Pokrivsak sees as proper is for girls to have their own head coach and assistant, a staff focused not on finding ways to fit girls in on a boys team — which creates all kinds of problems — but on getting girls to wrestle.
“I want somebody who can take over the girls, and not just coach the girls, but go out and recruit girls that are out in the school,” he said. “That’s a job they have to do.”
It could be argued that, at some schools, the boys coaches could do a better job of combing the hallways for athletes, and those programs have been established for years. Pokrivsak is absolutely correct that, at the start, a girls coach will have to be effective at bringing new athletes to the sport.
“There’s no reason that can’t be done,” said Pokrivsak, noting that girls soccer, girls lacrosse and competitive cheer have started as new varsity sports in the PIAA in recent memory and become very successful programs with high turnout.
No one doubts, either, the coaching skill of Billman and his staff and their ability to coach girls. But Easton doesn’t ask one coaching staff to handle both boys and girls basketball, or soccer, say, so why should wrestling be different?
It is true that track and cross country have one head coach for boys and girls, but they’re not contact sports, don’t have the same emphasis on team success, and with the occasional exception noted, teaching boys and girls how to be sprinters, jumpers or throwers is pretty consistent. Teaching boys and girls to wrestle can be two very different matters.
Pokrivsak gets the key element here: it’s not enough to just welcome girls to a boys’ room and make accommodations for them. The girls deserve their own setup, distinct from the boys.
Naturally, this costs money. Add up the coaching salaries — Pokrivsak says the girls coaches will be paid the same salary as the boys — entry fees for tournaments (which, in the beginning, will provide most of the competition for the girls as dual meets may be hard to come by) equipment, transportation, perhaps even hosting a tournament at Easton, and the number is (approximately) in the $24-26,000 range.
Now, in this time of pandemic when school budgets may be uncertain, funding shaky, unemployment skyrocketing, and the future unclear, it’s surely reasonable to question any new expense.
But the benefits of starting a girls program make it worth the cost.
A separate girls program will allow more and more girls to come out for the sport, girls that may not have been comfortable, for whatever reason, being on a boys team, and enjoy the physical and mental benefits that wrestling has provided to generations of Easton boys.
A separate girls program will allow more girls to pursue a sport that could open college doors. Pokrivsak noted that five Pennsylvania colleges offer women’s wrestling now and the sport is unquestionably growing at the collegiate level.
A separate girls program will end the physical mismatches, and some mental issues as well, that can prevail between boys and girls and allow girls to develop in their own way in their own space.
A separate girls program will allow the girls to attend more tournaments and competitions. If there’s just one team, if the girls go to a tournament that counts as 3 competition points, that comes out of the overall number of 22 allowed by the PIAA, leaving 19 for the boys. The PIAA discourages split teams in sports by this rule (which in our opinion needs to be changed, but that’s another column).
So, to avoid a) limiting boys ‘ opportunities and b) girls having to compete mostly against boys, separate teams make a lot of sense.
Also, Easton would take pride as a community in leading the way in District 11 and unleashing another outlet for school spirit. Look at the crowds that packed girls’ dual meets in Hunterdon and Warren counties this winter, at North Hunterdon, Warren Hills and Hunterdon Central. Look at the intense pride Phillipsburg takes in two-time state champion Jewel Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, in District 11, Parkland has taken steps towards having a girls team. The Trojans have excellent numbers and would likely offer Easton an immediate close-by companion. Indeed, the team competed in an unofficial dual meet this season, and could become fierce but friendly rivals.
How cool would it be to see those passions kindled for the Red Rovers?
Adding a separate program could open other doors as well. Some might scoff at double-duals featuring the girls and boys teams together, but Pokrivsak scoffs at the scoffers.,
“Look at women’s soccer, the WNBA,” he said. “20 years ago people said no one wanted to watch that. Times have changed. If girls aren’t stuck behind boys wrestling, if they can get out and wrestle on their own, in the limelight … that’s why we need change.”
A varsity high school team could produce enough interest for a junior high school team, and for youth programs. Pokrivsak dreams of the Valley Elementary Wrestling League (VEWL), the cradle of the sport in the Lehigh Valley for decades, one that fosters national champions and All-Americans, having girls’ competitions hosted at Easton Area Middle School.
“We host the boys’ VEWL tournaments,” he said. “Maybe it’s time the girls had their own.”
It’s definitely time, at all levels of wrestling.
We’ll find out Tuesday if it’s the right time for Easton to lead the way in girls wrestling. There’s no better, or more fitting, place for it to happen in the Lehigh Valley, District 11 and Pennsylvania.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com.