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It’s not about the victory

February 21, 2011

Cassy Herkelman became the first girl to win a wrestling match in Iowa's state tournament.

But, that's not really the news.

The news was that Joel Northrup, who entered the meet at 35-4 and a favorite to win the event, defaulted the match at 112 pounds because he would not wrestle her.

His decision was national news because the sophomore home-schooler who competed for Linn-Mar High School said he didn't think it was appropriate to wrestle a girl because of his religious beliefs.

"That's their belief, and I praise them for sticking to it," said Bill Herkelman, father of Cassy, to The Associated Press. "This is the biggest stage in wrestling in the state, I would say, and they stuck to their beliefs when it probably tested it the most. It was probably a tough pill for him to swallow."

Herkelman followed up her win with two losses, while Northrup dropped a 3-2 decision in three overtimes to get eliminated.

"He had the right to make his own choice, and he made his choice," said Herkelman, one of two girls in this year's tournament. "It's not like he did what he didn't want to do."

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."

"He's poured his heart and soul into wrestling and into being the best in the state," said father 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.'"

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.

"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."

Contrary to far too many opinions I have heard, this was not about losing to a girl.

It was simply about a religious belief.


Let's face it, though, wrestling a female is a no-win situation for a guy.

Win because you are supposed to.

Lose and you lost to a girl.

I understand the more and more that girls get involved in wrestling, guys will have to deal with it in their own way.

The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that more than 6,000 girls and nearly 275,000 boys competed in wrestling in 2009-10. Most states require girls to wrestle boys.

But, California, Hawaii, Texas, Washington and Tennessee sponsor girls-only high school wrestling tournaments.

I applaud Northrup for sticking with what he believes when far too many people would have compromised because of the almighty victory.

Once you start compromising in your beliefs, all beliefs are open to compromise.

The young man has drawn the line in the sand and is staying on one side.

Once you straddle that line, things get hard.

The line is blurred and is gets easier to cross.

He stepped down following his conscience.

This was not about chauvinism or sexism.

It was nothing more than a young man doing what he thought was right and far too many people just don't get it.

Eric Henry Liddell was a Scottish athlete, rugby player, and missionary whose religious beliefs were depicted in the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

He won the 400 at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, from the outside lane, no less.

He was supposed to run the 100, but it fell on a Sunday and, because of his religious beliefs, did not participate in the race.

The story goes that before Liddell went to the blocks in the 400 and was handed a piece of paper with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30: "Those who honor me I will honor."

In 1925 he ran 10.0 (100), 22.2 (200) and 47.7 (400). The man could fly.

He died on Feb. 24, 1945, because of a brain tumor as a missionary in China at age 43.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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