- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa | An Iowa high school wrestler who was one of the favorites to win his weight class defaulted on his first-round state tournament match rather than face one of the first girls to ever qualify for the event.

Joel Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore who was 35-4 wrestling for Linn-Mar High this season, said in a statement that he doesn’t feel it would be right for him to wrestle Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman.

Cassy, who was 20-13 entering the tournament, and fellow 112-pounder Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black, who was 25-13, made history by being the first girls to qualify for the state tournament. Megan was pinned quickly in her opening round match.

“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,” wrote Joel. “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. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

There were several thousand fans on hand Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena, but many were watching other matches when the referee raised Cassy’s hand to signal her win. There was a smattering of cheers and boos from the crowd before Cassy was whisked into the bowels of the arena.

Cedar Falls' Cassy Herkelman and her opponent, Joel Northrup of Linn-Mar High, stand at the scorers table waiting for their leg bands prior to their Class 3A 112 pound first-round match at the Iowa State Wrestling tournament on Thursday in Des Moines. (Associated Press)
Cedar Falls’ Cassy Herkelman and her opponent, Joel Northrup of Linn-Mar High, ... more >

Tournament organizers declined to make Cassy available for questions. Her next match is Friday.

In a text message to the Associated Press, her father, Bill Herkelman, said he understands Joel’s decision.

“It’s nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round,” Mr. Herkelman wrote. “I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.”

Linn-Mar athletics director Scott Mahmens said the school would not penalize Joel for defaulting. Because he defaulted and didn’t forfeit, Joel is eligible to compete in consolation rounds. Miss Black will also compete in the consolation rounds.

Wrestling is hugely popular in Iowa, and this is the first time girls have qualified for the state tournament, which began in 1926.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, just more than 6,000 girls competed in wrestling in the 2009-10 school year — compared with nearly 275,000 boys.