Girls wrestling in Florida finally sanctioned by FHSAA as its own sport

Clay High wrestler Madisyn Blackburn credits the sport with building her confidence, endurance and strength. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida High School Athletic Association voted on a series of changes Monday, including the creation of a state wrestling tournament for girls starting next March.

The creation of a separate, standalone girls individual bracket tournament will allow female grapplers a chance to compete against other girls. And that is a long time in the making.

Also getting the go-ahead on Monday were increased postseason slots for lacrosse, flag football, water polo and boys volleyball.

Changes in those sports brings them in line with other major team sports in how many teams make it to the postseason. Four district champions in each region will automatically qualify, along with four at-large teams. At-large qualifiers will be determined by power rankings just as sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball and volleyball do.

Playoffs expanding are one positive move, but the girls wrestling news was significant.

For years, girls have had to wrestle with and against boys to compete at the high school level. The FHSAA said at its meeting last June that separating boys and girls wrestling would bring more girls into the sport.

An IBT is traditional season-ending wrestling tournament which includes stages of district, region and state tournaments. Previously, girls wrestlers had to compete in the boys state tournament or at a third-party, girls-only season-ending tournament that isn’t affiliated with the FHSAA. Clay’s Madisyn Blackburn, and Orange Park’s Tayana Labady and Andrea Smith all won state championships last season in that event. The push to give girls their own tournament has been ongoing for years.

The vote to approve the addition was unanimous.

It had been trending that way for years and officially approved in June 2020, but the board’s legal counsel brought up questions about Title IX and conflicting bylaws issues at the meeting last June. Even then, board members felt strongly about getting girls wrestling the same treatment as boys wrestling. That includes a team duals state tournament and now an IBT.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.