February 17th, 2011
02:02 PM ET

High school athlete refuses to wrestle female opponent

By Jim Kavanagh, CNN

A high school wrestler in wrestling-crazy Iowa forfeited a tournament match Thursday after refusing to grapple with a female opponent.

"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," Joel Northrup said in a written statement, according to the Des Moines Register.

Northrup is home-schooled but wrestles as a 112-pound sophomore for Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa. He was a state title contender with a 35-4 record, CNN affiliate KCRG-TV reported.

His erstwhile opponent, Cassy Herkelman of Cedar Falls, advanced by default at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena.

Herkelman (20-13), a freshman, and Ottumwa, Iowa sophomore Megan Black (25-13) are the first two girls ever to qualify for the state individual tournament, which goes back to 1926.

Black lost her opening-round match and moved to the consolation bracket. If both Northrup and Black win twice in the consolation bracket, they will be paired in the third round, forcing Northrup again to decide whether to wrestle a girl.

Northrup, the son of a minister, had indicated after the first pairings were announced Sunday that he might take the forfeit.

"My understanding is that they've got strict convictions (as a family), and I respect them," Herkelman's father, Bill, told the Register at the time. "I don't have any ill will toward them and I don't think it's any kind of boycott about her being a girl."

Northrup said as much in his statement:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. ... It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most of the high school sports in Iowa."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Pastors • Sports

soundoff (2,288 Responses)
  1. RachaelM

    My only problem with this situation is that he is home schooled and competing on a SCHOOL team. If the parents choose to home school that is their prerogative, but he should not be competing on a school team.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • James

      Because homeschooled kids still belong to a school district. They get tested by the school district and are allowed to take part in school sports.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  2. Jon

    This young man showed real class. He congradulated her as the winner, and even respectfully declined. It was ultimately his decision. My only wish is that more people in this country stood up for what they beleive in. It took more courage to respectfully decline than it did for you to go to a computer and complain.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Joel is a sissy!

      Please help spread the word! http://bit.ly/sissyJoelFB

      February 18, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  3. SN

    Interesting isn't it? all this fuss because a guy refused to wrestle a girl, but what if the girl had refused to wrestle the guy? No one would have even said anything to her nor would the incident have made the news
    Why do we hold double standards?

    February 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  4. Lisa

    If many of you had REALLY read the article this young man wasn't simply forfeiting because he feared simply hurting her or being hurt by her. His statement was that he felt "engaging her in that manner was inappropriate"............... and the girls father respected his decision. Honestly, as a Mom of two girls and one boy I am certain I wouldn't want a boy wrestling my daughter. This isn't about a women not being able to "wrestle" or "throw a good punch/kick" it is about the literal position these kids would have been in. Wrestling sometimes has kids literally in each others crotches and all over each other. It is totally inappropriate. If they want to wrestly they should form a girls league. Girls are made differetntly from boys and would you really want a young man with his head in your daughters crotch? I wouldn't. As for those that believe that this young man't beliefs somehow cast women as weaker and can't hold position in the church.....well, you are wrong. Try getting involved with your local church and you'll see that women have all sorts of roles and positions and they do lead.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  5. Matt H

    I don't think people should judge this kid. I think it's a personal choice whether a boy should have to engage in a somewhat violent one-on-one sport with a girl and vice versa. He made a decision he felt was right, and I don't think it was about teasing.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  6. Amy

    I have absolutely no issues with this boy refusing to wrestle a female opponent over religious convictions. What I DO have a problem with is the parents who are saying boys should refuse to wrestle girls because they might get teased if they win or lose. Stop trying to raise a bunch of spoiled, whiny brats who can't take a little teasing! Life is FULL of teasing, even when you are an adult. Raising whiny babies is a recipe for severe depression and even suicide as they will be unprepared for a cruel world. Stop babying your kids!!!!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  7. Wake up

    I think everyone is missing the point...he's religious...he doesn't think it's appropriate for a boy to wrestle a girl because of all the body contact that occurs in wrestling. It's not about her being at a disadvantage because she's a girl, or a matter of him thinking girls shouldn't be in wrestling. He just personally doesn't think it's appropriate for him to get physical with a girl.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Sara N.

      Yes, this is what I took from it also.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  8. Steve

    As a former wrestler I can the kid was afraid of losing to a girl. Combative sports are not gender specific. Great way to show eqaullity kid. He's parents should ashmaed and he's going to have a hell of a time in the real world when his in home indoctrination is over. I almost feel sad for him.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  9. Mom of Three

    You know, what do we want from our kids? How many mixed signals are we going to send them before their common sense gene just explodes??? He's supposed to respect women, he took the words to heart that he wasn't supposed to lay hands on a woman in a combative situation, and there's something wrong with HIM? I don't think so. Plus, he can't win. If he beats her, even fair and square, he gets a rep. If he loses to her, he gets a rep. Best not to put himself in that situation in the first place. Smart boy.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  10. Chocomoose

    Hey everyone, calm down. This was an unusual situation, and there's no telling how it might have made the boy feel. The boy isn't in the right or the wrong. He made a decision, and he had the right to make that decision. End of story.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  11. Elizabeth

    This has everything to do with the fact that Cassy Herkelman is a girl. If it really had anything to do with the fact that wrestling is a violent sport involving the willful injury of others then Joel Northrup might have a very difficult time reconciling wrestling and his deep Christian faith. Why we, as a society, castigate this young man for stating his preference to forfeit is a bit odd, until one raises the question of what other personal preferences should be allowed as reason for forfeit? Race? Religion? If Cassy Herkelman qualified, like any other wrestler, she deserves the same contest as any other wrestler. Why should Joel Northrup be allowed to decide that he is her keeper? That his morality is superior to hers and everyone else's? He shouldn't, and he should be withdrawn from the tournament if he is not prepared to meet ALL opponents.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Lisa

      Ridiculos post.......No, he should not be removed from the tournament. There is an absolute right this young man has to stick by his convictions. They are his and his statement doesn't mean that hers are less. This young man doesn't want to "engage her in this manner" because honestly it would be inappropriate. She may have "earned" the right to be there but you can bet most young men don't want to wrestle a female. Why? Because they are females. We are made different than men. It is just that simple. There are obvious reasons: he doesn't want to be put in an inappropriate position with her. This is completely a contact sport and if he doesn't want to wrestle her and have that kind of contact then I applaud him. Perhaps schools should begin a division for females. I am not sure but will say that at the least this is not about his faith/religion being superior to his at all. I would say he is simply applying the standards he lives by to this part of his life. A standard is a standard and to confuse it with "religion" is wrong. As a Preachers kid you should know.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  12. Bob

    And this gentleman will have rewards for him when he meets his L O R D. To have done what he did, took 100 times more courage that what she attempted to do and 1000 time more moral integrity than her for accepting the win. This may be the 21st century, But he moral laws never become outdated, no matter how long we live.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Funny, there's nothing I ever read in the Bible that says anything about boys and girls wrestling or the morality of inter-gender sports. Sportsmanship and religion do have some similarities, but i'd venture to say that the arguments cut in the opposite direction that you are positing. And, for the record, I am the child of a minister as well.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  13. Bob

    she is not now and never would be in the same league as him as an " athlete" if that's what you want to call her. She is male he is female, Females do not belong in the same arena as men. period. they can not compete on the same level. he did what was needed to preserve her and his dignity. If she had any dignity, she would have recognized this and not taken the win, for that matter she would never had been there./ She should have been raised by people that knew the limitations of a female in a male domain. She would not have to go throught the absolute disappointment of finding out her parents lied to her about being able to compete on the man's level. They should be the one to feel her pain.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  14. Susan

    This made the news why? My husband is the head wrestling coach at our local highschool, and this happens all the time. Boys just don't feel right about wrestling a girl. Who can blame them. It's a very rough sport. I have seen many girls get hurt by boys in this sport!!!

    February 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • James

      The news just wants something they can hype up, That's why it made the news.. Unfortunately most people on this site have never played sports and buy into it.. My son wrestles aswell and he has turned down a match against a girl. I'm proud of him for doing so

      February 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  15. OCroger

    I wouldn't be surprised if also thinks people did not evolve from monkeys. In fact, one can only imagine what kind of "education" he received while at home. This female wrestler might be the first female he's ever come across who wasn't presented to him in a subservient role.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • KMHOttawa

      The young man in the article exercised his right to forfeit a match for personal reasons. He was articulate, graceful and respectful in his response to the press. You could learn something from him, OCroger

      February 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Jason

      Come on man. I hope he doesn't think we evolved from monkeys because we didn't. We evolved from a common ancestor which was neither monkey nor human. If you want to go there, at least get it straight.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  16. nematoad

    He really felt strongly against getting wooped by a girl in the wrestling ring. Clearly, she was a better wrestler and he knew that. Male pride is more important than convictions.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • James

      You obviously know nothing about sports or sportmanship.. When a male child wrestles a female child, There is no incentive, Either way it goes, He loses..

      February 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Woody

      DId you see the records, dummy? I actually know the people and he is a great wrestler. Very much backwards, but he would kill her if they did wrestle. He is a top contender no doubt. I don't know how sher even made it out of regionals. No disrespect, I'm just saying the reason they didn't wrestle wasn't because he would have lost anyway.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • ryan

      better wrestler? He was 35-4, she was 20-13.. no contest he's better, and without s doubt he beats her, there are a reason we have separate leagues for men and women, even in a sport like basketball where contact is practically forbidden. I was raised "you don't hit a girl" i think slamming one to the ground, and potentially breaking one of her limbs (which is possible in wrestling) falls into the same category of behavior men should avoid with regards to women. I am all for equality, but mixing sports is not the same. Men are naturally bigger and stronger, giving them a major advantage in most sports, especially those that rely more on brute strength. And as a young man, he is in a lose-lose situation with his peers, he either beats up a girl or gets beaten by a girl, and while you can argue that "what people think doesn't matter" this is a teenager, someone who is overly conscious of what their peers think.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  17. OCroger

    I was involved in martial arts while in high school and occasionally had to spar with and compete against female fighters. It taught me a valuable lesson, which was that some women can really throw a punch or kick when properly trained. This guy just needs to get over himself and realize that being male doesn't make him any better than a female. It does not surprise me that he was raised by a person who holds authority in an organization that simply does not promote the status of women within their hierarchy. Of course by that I do mean the christian hierarchy. Why is it that only males hold authority positions within the church hierarchy? It's the same reason why this hopelessly sheltered young man refuses to share the ring with someone who isn't male.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • James

      Punching and kicking a girl in contact sports is NOT the same as wrestling a girl

      February 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • doodley

      The answer to your question is in the bible. Why don't you pick it up and read it sometime.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • OCroger

      There's a world outside of what the bible has taught you to think, doodley. I can only hope for your sake and the sake of society that you discover it one day.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • dee

      Yah, I'm sure a girl can throw a punch, but the issue here is can she take one. By a guy. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • CGN

      The whole "gender issue" within the traditional Christian community is greatly misunderstood by many. Christian men don't think they are better than women in any way. We all believe, however, that while men and women are of equal importance, we were simply designed to play different roles. It's God's plan, and it's a perfect one. The church "hierarchy", as you say, works in much the same way as a Christian marriage. I am under the leadership of my husband. That in no way means that I'm a doormat, in fact it's quite the opposite. I respect him and the difficult decisions he makes for our family. I submit to him, just as the church submits to Christ. In return he honors me, loves me, values my opinions, respects me and sacrifices everything for me and our children, just as Christ did for his church. I know it's a difficult concept for non-Christians to understand this, believe me, I was raised in a family of Atheists. 🙂 But like the saying goes, "don't knock it until you've tried it." Having men in a leadership role isn't just something the men do to keep women beneath them. I gladly submit to my husband (and the elders in my church, for that matter) and I have a wonderful, happy, blessed marriage.


      February 17, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  18. James

    My son is a wrestler for a middle school, He wouldnt wrestle a girl either and took the forfiet.. If the boy beats the the girl he would get teased for beating a girl, If the boy loses to the girl he will get teased for ATLEAST the rest of the season for losing to a girl. Good move by this kid.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Or, you could have used the opportunity to teach him self-respect and respect for his sport. Instead, you reinforced that what others think is more important. Great move.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • OCroger

      Way to teach your son to do whatever it takes to avoid being teased. While you're at it, why you don't remove his spine if you haven't already done so.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • James

      Ocroger.. You've obviously never competed in sports or know anyone that has. Next time you want to speak about Morals, Sports, Equality or life in general.. Please think about it first

      February 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Amy

      Right, because teasing is the end of the world and we should all live our lives based on whether or not we MIGHT get teased. Please. Tell your whiny little boy to grow the heck up.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • grist

      There will come a time when we will truly judge people by the content of their character and their abilities rather than their race or gender.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • James

      Teasing for young children actually can seem like the end of the world to them. I wouldnt expect you to knowe this though, You probably havent any.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Lee Wiles

      If you think taking a forfeit for a high school athelte is an "easy way out" you are sadly mistaken.

      What Joel did took real courage. Not only did that choice cost him, it cost his team as well. While individuals wrestle, wrestling is not an individual sport. Not wrestling a female did not avoid any teasing for Joel. In fact it probably was the riskiest move he could make. Not only might his teammates tease him, but there is a real risk teammates, their coach(es), school administrator(s), student body, and yes, even some parents might be angry enough vent – say in a comment like these. Some easy way out-but Joel felt that the real principles that no one here seems to be talking about were worth the risk. When was the last time you believe in something that much?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Joel is a sissy!

      ha, ha, ha... you want to add your son's name to this Facebook page? http://bit.ly/sissyJoelFB

      Please help spread the word! 🙂

      February 18, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  19. hahahaha


    February 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Joel is a sissy!

      Ha, ha, ha... Joel is a sissy! Check out this Facebook page bit.ly/wimpyJoel

      Let's spread the word! 🙂

      February 18, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  20. NCraw


    February 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Joel is a sissy!

      Let's spread the word! http://bit.ly/sissyJoelFB

      February 18, 2011 at 12:12 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.