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. justin

    let the kid do what he believes is right for him. don't force him to accept what you believe is right. if he doesn't want to wrestle her, for whatever reason, who are we to judge him? if we think his reasons are hypocritical, what does that make of us judging him?

    February 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • LEB

      Who are we to judge him? People who don't view girls as less than boys, or women as less than men. This would not be tolerated if he had refused to wrestle a black student or a Muslim student based on "personal convictions." Discriminating against an opponent because she is female is no different.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  2. tstorm

    How can wrestling a girl in a college sport be against your religion? "Thou shalt not wrestle girls..." HUH???

    February 18, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • What A Stretch

      It goes a little deeper than that. Some young men are still taught to treat girls with respect in this day and age. He decided to do what he felt is the right thing to do and lost a shot at a state championship by doing so. That's giving up a lot to stand up for what he belived was the right thing to do. Very few people would have had that courage.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  3. star

    dear moderator-please tell me why my comment was not included? I cant think of a single inflammatory thing in it, so I need to know so that I wont do whatever bad i did again.
    Or did you not like that I supported the kid's right to stand on his principles?

    February 18, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  4. The Great Awk

    where do i sign up for co-ed wrestling? i don't mind being beaten by a girl one bit.

    February 18, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  5. Cody

    I agree with the guy 100%.

    I'm not going to wrestle a girl simply because I respect her.

    February 18, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • LEB

      If you really respected her, you would wrestle her and not hold back just because she's a woman. If she feels she's strong enough to compete against the guys, then she deserves as much respect as anyone else.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  6. Nickiallday359

    The bottom line is the girl knows what she is doing. She wants to wrestle then let her wrestle and apparently she is really good so good on her. The boy shouldn't be faulted though for not wanting to fight her. Everyone has their opinions and views and his faith did not agree. The only fault I can think of is boys will take it easy on the girls in this sport. Because no guy wants to be the one that broke a girl's neck or back and everyone looking at them like "what the hell is your problem beating up on a girl like that".

    February 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  7. JOHN

    Combat sport? Really.....do they kill each other?
    Once again...religion is to blame.
    Ah keep in mind this girl has a 20-13 record against boys....
    And for the record...they aren't 'fighting' each other...they wrestle for a few minutes....and he weigh's 112 pounds.....
    We aren't talking about giants here...
    Religion is the root
    of all that is

    February 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. chall

    These young people should never have been placed in this position. This situation represents nothing more than the triumph of Political Correctness over common sense. We can't tell anyone "NO!" It should be OKAY to draw a line! Nobody has a problem that we don't allow male and female athletes to shower together in high school...how is it unreasonable that they not be allowed to wrestle each other??

    February 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  9. Rick From Maryland

    It is very impressive that these girls have succeeded to this level. It takes a great deal of focus and dedication to do so. However, to me the answer is simple. They don't belong in boy's wrestling just like boys don't belong in girls field hockey. With the determination and resolve that these girls have shown, they could be good at just about anything. They need to choose another sport or use their skill of determination to begin a girls wrestling program.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  10. Tacjam

    Upstanding young man! This shouldn't be in the news. If this young man doesn't want to wrestle a girl, another boy...anyone. It's his decision. If the wrestling coach feels that he forfeits matches due to not having the ability he should be cut from the team. Nothing wrong with what he did..CNN shame on you for blowing this thing up!

    February 18, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. KittyKat

    Congratulations Joel – you're a standup guy. If she wants to wrestle, then I have no problem with that. But she needs to complete against girls. In track at the high school level you compete against your own gender. Same with basketball, golf, softball/baseball, etc. Why would anyone doubt the young man for standing up for what he thinks is right? Can you imagine the backlash if he did wrestle her and she got hurt? Or if she won? I'm okay with it. He did alright by me.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  12. MTimbe

    Its 2011 and people are praising this ignorant kid? I can understand being fine with decision but praising him? He did nothing praiseworthy. The ignorance of the world is absolutely shocking. People have the gall to say women shouldn't be wrestling? I really need everyone to stop, take a breath, and stop being complete morons.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Alice

      He never said that women shouldn't be wrestling. He said, "I personally don't want to wrestle a woman." I think we need to respect people's boundaries. As a woman, if somebody told me I "have" to wear skimpy clothes or touch someone (especially a man) in an intimate way, and I don't want to, it's my right to say no. If he doesn't want to be violent with a girl or, say, touch her in ways necessary to win a wrestling match, that's his choice - even if he thinks it's fine for a girl to be wrestling.

      It's foolish for men and women to pretend that we are "the same." Genetically, we are different. Physiologically, we are different, and that's why men and women compete separately in sports such as the Olympics. How many men do you see giving birth? In psychological studies, men and women often have different responses divided along gender lines.

      That doesn't mean that men are "superior" to women or that they should be paid more in the workplace. Women need to be valued just as much as men. But if we are going to generalize about gender, we (men and women) are not exactly the same and it's deceiving ourselves to pretend that we are "the same." Obviously, individuals can be different (i.e., although men are generally physically stronger than women, a particular woman could be stronger than many or all of the men around her). Any marketer will tell you as much - they're not going to use the same marketing campaign to target 14 year old girls as for 30 year old men. It's common sense.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • What A Stretch

      He stood up for what he belived was the right thing, that's honorable in this day and age where everyone has a lemming mentality and are willing to run off of the cliff with everyone else.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  13. DRAY

    This is stupid. I know some girls who are just as fierce if not more so than guys. Women's bodies are made to withstand more pain and trauma than a guys anyway. That's evolution. I think that the boy is scared to lose to a girl. I think he should just get out there and do his best and whoever wins, wins. It was her choice to do this so she obviously knew what she was getting herself into.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  14. Mark

    I have to agree that this is stupid. Everyone sits around singing Kumbaya and pretending we're all equals in every way. It's simply not true. Guys have to be constantly placating women and acting almost inferior in certain things because it's what society expects of us now.
    Nobody in their right mind wants a female firefighter running in to a burning building to save someone. Well at least not the person being saved. Having a female on the firetruck is a waste of space that could have been occupied by a man.
    Women now seem about 400 times more likely to start pushing a guy or throwing things in an arguement, or even screaming things at a guy as though they're rubbing it in his nose that they're untouchable. Yet a guy can NEVER hit a woman. You want to be treated like a man? In that case show some respect for the fact that a guy could fracture your skull and knock all your teeth out with one punch. (and no I've never hit a woman but I have had a couple women do things to me that would have warranted a violent response if she were a man).

    As for this wrestling nonsense. All things being equal, a woman wrestler is nowhere near as good as a man. So the only point to women joining is the hope that they can find a situation were all things are not equal and give the illusion that they are competing. This article clearly shows this was what was happening at this particular tournament. Why should the guys at this tournament have to share all this with women who don't deserve it?

    It's unfair that these guys who have been trained from day one not to touch a woman in any way are suddenly forced to endure the awkwardness of having to do exactly that in front of a huge crowd. The whole time they're probably picturing the cast of Law and Order SVU crashing through the door to arrest them as soon as the match ends.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • What A Stretch

      Did you even read the article? These girls didn't get to the state finals by wrestling only other girls! They kicked some boy butt on the way there. This young man opted out of the match based on his principles which I think is commendable. Your comments on the other hand seem to prove not all neandrathols are extinct!

      February 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  15. wil

    His explanation is hypocritical and it sounds like a cop out. Why is it okay, based on faith, to go into combat with males, with the possibility of getting violent? This is not state-sponsored war and he's not defending life, limb, or property. I don't think most religions would condone slamming another person to the ground for no reason. He, and the other athletes, are suspending their morals and their rights to safety by participating, so gender should not be an issue.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • coastiegirl

      I am guessing that you haven't seen much, if any, of high school wrestling. Like fencing and karate, as a sport, it isn't "violent." However, it does involve intense physical activity between the two opponents. He is not being hypocritical if he states he has respect for the girls' accomplishments but does not want to engage a female in this manner, regardless of their accomplishments.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  16. hasc

    I fully support the young man, not so much from a religious point of view, but from the social pressures this situation puts upon him. It is socially unacceptable for a man to act with physical violence upon a woman, even in a sports context. So, therefore why do we adults put our children in this dilemma?

    February 18, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  17. Get Real

    SB got it right... "home schooled by a minister"
    This kid has been living in a cave of oppression. Follow this kid's story... The next time that we read about him, it will be for something less savory than wrestling...

    February 18, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Edward

      Well, I think that might be a tad presumptuous. I'm an atheist but can fully empathize with that wrestler's dilemma. I probably would have made the same decision and cited similar reasoning – minus the theological overtones, of course. 😉

      February 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • TB

      So your problem is that he's the son of a minister? You truly need to "Get Real." He's not living a life of oppression simply because of his fathers vocation...Guaranteed! You should speak of that which you know something about.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • What A Stretch

      If you did your homework you would learn that home schooled kids a far more scholastically advanced than public school kids. Educate yourself before you open your mouth and prove your ignorance.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • oklahoman

      Who is the ignorant one here?!! The young man should be applauded! You don't think it was hard to walk away from something that you desperately want, because of principles?! A young man holding up integrity instead of a trophy – wow! That is what we want in our young men again!

      February 18, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  18. Bel

    I agree with the boy and can't blame him for not wrestling her. They need to keep the boys and girls separate just they do with other sports. Girls should wrestle girls and boys should wrestle boys.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • KittyKat


      February 18, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Dino

      Another Amen!!

      February 18, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Dave


      February 18, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  19. reg11

    This young man should be commed for standing up and doing the right thing, it's good to know, that this country still has parents that teach children morals.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Dempsy

      It always strikes when me one references moral. There are a set of morals that are global and others that are personal, the one in the article is that of a personal conviction, what happens when the personal morals conflict? This what I think the bigger issue is.

      February 18, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • DRAY

      How in the heck can you reference Morals? It's a sport. There are rules, there are men and women who uphold the rules and people watching. It's not like he's beating his wife or girlfriend. It is a GAME, a test of wills and technique as much as it is about strength!

      February 18, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Mark

      It's not a personal conviction. It's a general one that's been drilled in to kids heads since birth but is conveniently being forgotten in this specific case because one liberal tenet is being canceled out by a en even more modern one.

      So now this kid is supposed to violently molest this girl for 7 minutes while everyone watches. Meanwhile it sounds like she doesn't even deserve to be there.

      February 18, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • jeremy

      As a former VA state wrestler I can tell you i hate seeing girls wrestle males because of a head injury i witnessed years ago the girl won 2 matches by forfeit the same reason this girl did then she wrestled a guy who (hated women I guess) he belly to backed her in a free style match knocking her unconscious and giving her a mild concussion. That guy destroyed her out there. The point here is men and women are different physically don’t make them compete in a “power” sport.

      February 18, 2011 at 10:54 am |

      I'm so in agreement with your comment. This is young man who thinks clearly and is convicted .Religion or not... what are people thinking to have teenage boys and girls wrestling each other.!!!??? Has someone forgotten what it feels like to be teenager!!?/

      February 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Dave

      In high school there are usually male and female sports. (Boys and Girls Basketball, Baseball vs. Softball) In this case, there is not. Morals has nothing to do with it. The safety of the athletes has a WHOLE lot to do with it. The boy shouldn't have been put into this position.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  20. Adolescent Mind

    Imagine being a teenage male and having to grapple with a female in front of a crowd. Despite his religious convictions, you can only guess what type of social anxiety he is facing right now internally.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Downtym

      When she slams you into the mat and rams an elbow into your chest then you stop caring really quickly.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Robert

      Yeah. Especially if he loses!

      February 18, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Wrester Mom

      The young man is wrestling in a state that allows women to particpate if they are qualified and are up to team standards. He knew that going into the sport. I believe this just a way for his parents to "grand stand" their position in a highly publicized state tournament. If a women can do a "mans job" and take the pain..it should be allowed. That is the real world, ask any female Marine overseas. And yes, my daughter was a wrestler for four years in high school.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • jj

      And the thought-controlling Ayatollahs smile! Homeschooling is one step away from a Madras.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • LEB

      So his "anxiety" about possibly being beat by a girl should be tolerated?

      February 18, 2011 at 11:37 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.