DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After a standout season in which he went 35-4, Joel Northrup had every reason to dream of winning an Iowa wrestling championship this year, but he gave it all up before his first state tournament match Thursday.

Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore who competes for Linn-Mar High School, said his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to wrestle Cassy Herkelman, a pony-tailed freshman from Cedar Falls who is one of the first two girls to qualify for the tournament in its 85-year history.

Northrup issued a statement through his school expressing his “tremendous” respect for what Herkelman and Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black achieved this season, but he said didn’t feel he had a choice.

“Wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times,” Northrup said in a statement released by his high school. “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.”

His father, Jamie Northrup, told The Associated Press later Thursday that his son struggled with the decision.

“He’s poured his heart and soul into wrestling and into being the best in the state,” Jamie Northrup said. “He’s never won a state championship, so he’s certainly looking forward to that day. So it’s agonizing, from all the work and the effort and the hope.

“But it’s easy in that, he, a long time ago, drew a line and said ‘I don’t believe it’s right for a boy to wrestle a girl.”‘

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

Northrup’s decision to default put Herkelman in the quarterfinals in the 112-pound weight class, and it put her name in the record book as the first girl to win an Iowa state tournament match. But it deprived her of the chance to show the skills that earned her a 20-13 pre-tournament record.

Tournament organizers declined to make Herkelman available for questions. But her father, Bill Herkelman, told the AP via text message that he understands and respects Northrup’s decision.

“It’s nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round,” Bill 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.”

Because he defaulted and didn’t forfeit, Northrup was allowed to compete in the consolation rounds, and he won his first match later Thursday by major decision.

He was spared any chance of meeting up with Black — who also wrestles at 112 pounds and was 25-13 entering the tournament — when she was eliminated after being pinned in both of her matches.

Northrup and Herkelman would be matched up again if both were to make the finals in the consolation bracket. If that happens, Northrup would likely make the same decision, his father said.

Jamie Northrup is a minister in the Believers in Grace Fellowship, an independent Pentecostal church in Marion that believes young men and women shouldn’t touch in a “familiar way,” said Bill Randles, the church’s pastor.

“We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that.”

Randles said Joel has been involved in wrestling for many years, and he and his family have discussed before the possibility of girls getting involved in the sport.

“It’s totally his choice. He’s a young man now and he’s worked hard to get where he’s gotten. It’s up to him, and it was his conviction” not to wrestle Herkelman.

Black said Northrup refused to wrestle her three years ago, and that she respects him for adhering to his beliefs.

“If it’s his religion and he’s strong in his religion, then I just respect that,” Black said. “Obviously, everyone can be pointing fingers at him. He, at least, is true to his beliefs and you have to respect that. It takes a lot for a 15- or 16-year-old boy to do.”

Marth Stetzel, a mother from Perry who had two sons in the tournament, said she had no problem with Northrup’s decision.

“We’re really raising kids that are going to be bigger than wrestling, and if it’s something that he believes strongly in — which is not necessarily what I would do — you’ve got to respect a kid like that,” Stetzel said.

Wrestling is extremely popular in Iowa, and Black and Herkelman are the first girls to qualify for the state tournament since it was first sanctioned by the Iowa High School Athletic Association in 1926.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 6,000 girls competed in wrestling in 2009-10 — compared with nearly 275,000 boys. Though most states require girls to wrestle boys, California, Hawaii, Texas, Washington and Tennessee sponsor girls-only high school wrestling tournaments.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (31)
  1. gtV says:

    Joel Northrup is a class act for his decision to default. His decision of conscience and beliefs is outstandingly admirable. In the field of sports true character can be revealed not only by physical prowess but by the spirit which makes the individual the person they are. Acts of character like Northrup’s are infrequently observed today’s competitive win-at-all costs sports.

    The female Iowan wrestlers may be within the scope of and/or letter of USC-Chapter 9, relating to gender equality in sports but it would be in the best interest of the Iowa High School Sports organization to look to other states who have female only sports competition.

    1. BS says:

      Don’t be so pompous.

      1. gtV says:

        Whose being pompous? I am just an old fashion guy who happens to agree with the kid. Don’t forget all issues of conscience do not have to be politically or fashionably correct. For whatever his reasons to default it was his decision and he made it with any help from any of us!

  2. corby12 says:

    I believe Joel is a first class bigot!

    1. The Truth says:

      I know you’re a first class moron.

  3. BS says:

    He was scared of being beaten by a girl.

    1. gtV says:

      Maybe, but can’t he decide on his own merits and ethics?

    2. The Truth says:

      Your name says it all about your comment.

  4. BS says:

    The state MN allows female wresters. I’ve seen them beat many boys. Talk about crybabies.

    1. gtV says:

      So what! I know some girls who could wring your neck in a match!

    2. EasyNowPardner says:

      Not in a tournament hun — in local matches where they wrestle average wrestlers I’ve seen it to. Hit the big tourney and it’s a new game. 😉

  5. Ed says:

    Very graceful the way he dodged a potentially HUGE embarrasment by hiding behind his “faith” and sparing her from the violence she probably never saw in any of her last 33 matches and countless practices.
    He robbed that girl the chance to prove herself, what a class act.
    Sounds like maybe the girl is just that good and he didn’t want take the chance on losing to a girl,

  6. jamie says:

    I respect his decision and I am a women’s advocate. In other sports boys and girls are seperate, track, tennis, golf etc so why be so hard on a kid because he is choosing not to wrestle a girl.

  7. Patty says:

    I applaud Northrup’s decision and I wish other men would have the same respect for women! I believe that women should have the right to compete in all sporting events how ever when individual, physical contact is involved there should be a separate woman’s team. We should be looking at our schools to see the need for woman’s teams and create them; then we wouldn’t have this problem.

  8. gmoney says:

    i’ve had to wrestle a few girls in high school before and i didn’t think twice about going out there and doing my best like every other match. the only thing i was worried about is being careful where my hands were placed. fight like a boy get beaten like a boy. they know what their getting into. i give all girls that do wrestle a lot of props though. the whole thing is these girls dont want special treatment they want to be treated like all the other wrestlers. i think the kid should have to have taken a forfeit.. so what happens if the two end up having to wrestle for the title or another to even place.. call it a tie?? and the reason why they dont have girls wrestling teams is simply not enough girls that want to do that… kind of like a boys high school cheer leading squad…..

  9. kmg says:

    i agree with patty, I too, admire Joel for showing respect for the
    young girls. I think that is in poor taste for these schools to allow
    that kind of contact sport. They should have an all girls wrestling team.
    Shame on their sports department.

    1. gmoney says:

      all that so called respect u speak of just lost him a shot at the state title. the best he can do is 3rd. its his fault but she was never forced to be in the sport. so why do u think the boys should have to forfeit to the girls if this is what the girls want to do? obviously it is what they want to do otherwise they wouldn’t do it. and if all the boys did forfeit then the girls wouldn’t get to do the sport they love….??? these arnt your typical omg i broke a nail type of girl.

  10. red says:

    I agree he was afraid of being on the public stage and being beaten by a girl, WHIMP! GO CASSY!

    1. The Truth says:

      You’re an idiot.

  11. Random Anonymous Blackmail says:

    One slip of the hand and he could be charged with sexual assault, in this day and age he made the correct decision in my eyes.

    1. Tom got Jill says:

      You know – this very comment crossed my mind too.
      He did the right thing – he could not win this match per se no matter what he did.
      Pim her – it was unfair. Hurt her – lets not even think of that.
      Use certain techniques and …. well, some will call it almost peverted in nature to do so against a female.
      I tip my hat to him. No doubt someone will wrestle her as I doubt she geta a default all the way to a title but I truly would not want to be the one to do so.

  12. chimp says:

    you all want equal evrything, so tee off from the black tees in golf, and take punchs to the face, geez woman serve only 1 purpose i swear

  13. I think that's lame says:

    The respectful choice would have been to meet her as a fellow competitor and wrestle as he would against any other opponent.

    1. The Truth says:

      The respectful choice is to do what he did and not to have to avoid grabbing her crotch or breast as part of his takedown or pin moves.

      1. Dwight says:

        Does he avoid grabbing the crotch or breast (yes, I’ve seen breasts on male wrestlers)? You put the same moves on your opponent regardless of gender. He should’ve wrestled.

  14. CheckingTheOil says:

    Is that a banana in you tights or are you just excited to touch her.

  15. dudeski says:

    I guess none of you pinheads read the records of the 2 kids it would not even been a match

    1. EasyNowPardner says:

      I did – and that’s why I said above what I did.

  16. Dwight says:

    Some of you are being ridiculous… “one slip of the hand and he could be charged with sexual assault”?! REALLY?! He could be charged with sexual assault on a male too, with that reasoning! Keep off of the mat if that’s what you’re worried about!

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