Submitted / The Outlook Rebecca Charshaw, right, is in the Benjamin Russell wrestling program and is currently working out with the middle school team. She's grown up around wrestling and is one who could help grow the sport in the area.

Growing the sport is always a goal, especially on the high school level and even more especially for smaller sports. Wrestling is one of those that’s a niche in most people’s eyes and it can be tough to break into the world of wrestling.

Slowly but surely though, wrestling has grown around the state of Alabama. The AHSAA just recently announced it was making a change to its classification for the 2020-22 cycle and most coaches are in agreement there’s hope wrestling will grow enough by the next reclassification to require four class divisions.

Now even more eyes are focused on growing wrestling in the state as the Alabama Girls High School Wrestling Task Force has announced the launch of #SanctionAL, which is an effort to try to get girls wrestling sanctioned by the AHSAA.

“Anytime you have another group that wants to get involved in the sport, I think that’s positive,” Benjamin Russell wrestling coach Michael Ransaw said. “That’s just another sports that we can have young ladies participate in.”

Although Ransaw is a big advocate of growing the sport and making it more readily available to females, he also knows there are several hurdles. Currently, girls can wrestle for their schools’ teams; however, they can’t be guaranteed to wrestle against solely girls because of the small number of female wrestlers in the state.

“The big thing is having enough young ladies to start a program,” Ransaw said. “You’re going to have to find those first two young ladies to wrestle and get into it so others can see this is something they can get into without being criticized. Once we get over that hump, I think more girls will see it as an equal sport.”

Right now, Benjamin Russell has one female, Rebecca Charsha, in the program. She’s with the middle school team and her older brother Bobby helped pave the way because she’s been around the sport her whole life.

Ransaw thinks a good idea is to start with girls who already have experience with the sport, either through their brothers or other family members, then have those girls try to recruit people in their friend circles to give wrestling a chance.

For instance, right now, Charsha is working with the middle school boys and Ransaw is hoping she’ll try to convince friends or other girls who’ve had brothers in the program to join the team — or at the very least give it a try.

Without having a girls team or girls wrestling being sanctioned at all, it’s been tough to recruit Benjamin Russell female athletes to join the team.

“We as coaches have to realize that it has to be a sanctioned sport,” Ransaw said. “We cannot continue to have our young ladies wrestling the guys because physically, they’re just outmanned most likely. We have to promote it as an all-girls sport and guarantee they’re not going to be wrestling against guys.

“Until we get enough teams and young ladies involved in it, we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle simply because girls don’t want to wrestle guys.”

There’s also a stigma involved with co-ed wrestling because the boys have somewhat of an expectation to win, and there’s a concern with hurting the boys who already wrestle because they, likewise, don’t want to compete against girls.

However, through his statewide wrestling connections, Ransaw is hearing more and more about larger numbers of girls joining high school wrestling teams. In some schools in the Dothan and Mobile areas, Ransaw said he knows of schools with four or five girls on their teams.

At Benjamin Russell, wrestling is of course open to girls; Ransaw said he welcomes any female who wants to join the team. But he’s also hopeful one day, he can guarantee more tournaments and matches where they’re competing against other girls.

“(The youth league) is also a great place to start,” Ransaw said. “Last year, they had two or three young girls in there, and that’s a great starting point. But once again, I still think those girls are going to these tournaments and they’re wrestling against guys. Hopefully that can change and we can ensure parents and girls they are going to be up against other young ladies.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.