A York-Adams League school adds girls' wrestling as an official sport

Gettysburg High School wrestler Montana DeLawder, seen here at bottom in a file photo, has excelled wrestling against the boys during her three years in high school, compiling a 67-43 record.

A York-Adams League member has joined the growing list of Pennsylvania schools to officially recognize girls' wrestling as a varsity sport.

Gettysburg High School in Adams County became the first program in the local 23-member league to sanction the sport.

The unanimous decision by the Gettysburg Area School District is not entirely surprising. The Warriors' varsity wrestling program featured eight female wrestlers last year, including one of the top girls' wrestlers in the nation in Montana DeLawder. She is ranked No. 1 in her weight class in the nation among female scholastic wrestlers.

Over the past three years, DeLawder has excelled while wrestling against the boys during her high school career, compiling a 67-43 record heading into her senior season with the Warriors.

Last March, she won the 2020 MyHouse Pennsylvania High School Girls State Wrestling Championships title at 122 pounds — an event that was not sanctioned by the PIAA. 

“The approving of a girls' team here at Gettysburg means the world to not only me, but the past and present girls that have been in this program," DeLawder said in a news release issued by the Pennsylvania Girls High School Wrestling Task Force. "Gettysburg wrestling has had such a huge impact on my life, and I am very excited for the girls that will get to take advantage of this opportunity in the future. I am very grateful that girls will now be able to have the experiences I have had, but this time in a league of their own.”

Joining a growing list: Overall, eight schools in Pennsylvania have now decided to sponsor girls' wrestling. The task force, through its SanctionPA campaign, is striving to reach 100 girls' wrestling programs in the state. That is the number required by the PIAA before it will consider sanctioning a sport. Before March of this year, there were no Pennsylvania districts that sanctioned a girls' wrestling team.

"Gettysburg wrestling has been involved in girls' wrestling for many years and to have a girls' team recognized and sanctioned is overwhelming," Gettysburg head coach Chris Haines said in the news release. "We are looking forward to helping lead the way for the sanctioning of girls' wrestling by the PIAA and helping to further advance girls' wrestling throughout the country." 

Haines told the Gettysburg school board that wrestling will not cost the school district any extra expense since the school is already paying for the girls to wrestle on the existing team. Haines will be the head coach for both the boys' and girls' teams, with one assistant coach working with the boys and one assistant working with the girls. Girls have been wrestling within the Gettysburg program since 2014.

The Gettysburg Youth Wrestling Program has committed to paying for any costs associated with postseason competition.

Gettysburg becomes the fourth program in District 3 to sanction the sport, joining Annville-Cleona in Lebanon County, Governor Mifflin in Berks County and J.P. McCaskey in Lancaster County.

The other schools who have decided to sponsor girls' wrestling are Easton (Northampton County), North Allegheny (Allegheny County), Executive Education Charter School (Lehigh County) and Central Mountain (Clinton County). The North Allegheny team is coached by Northeastern High graduate Dan Heckert.

Fast-growing sport: According to the task force, for the past five years, girls' wrestling has been the fastest-growing high school sport in the country. Mirroring national statistics, Pennsylvania high school wrestling has experienced a 100% growth of girls on high school boys’ teams in the past five years. All 12 PIAA districts have girls wrestling within their area schools. While there are 29 state high school associations sanctioning a girls' wrestling state championship, Pennsylvania does not yet have an official PIAA state tournament and has not sanctioned girls' wrestling as a sport.

“As the eighth school signs on to fund a girls' wrestling program, it is clear there is a strong desire and need to grow this sport in Pennsylvania," said Brooke Zumas, who is an assistant wrestling coach at Parkland High School and chair of the task force. "It is inspiring to see the progressive thinking of school districts during a time where they could shelf new programs. We applaud and thank Gettysburg, and the other schools that have added programs in the past six months, for their leadership and advocacy for girls' wrestling in our state.”

Until the PIAA officially sanctions the sport, however, the girls on the Gettysburg team will continue to wrestle mainly against boys in competition.

— Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.