DES MOINES – After days of speculation, Linn-Mar’s Joel Northrup sacrificed a chance to compete for a state wrestling title instead of wrestling Iowa’s first female state tournament qualifier.
The controversial decision had the crowd of the Iowa HIgh School Athletic Association Class 3A state tournament buzzing Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Northrup and Cedar Falls’ Cassy Herkelman reported to the mat for their 112-pound first-round match, but only Herkelman stepped to the center where Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher motioned his wrestler would not compete. The action was met with boos from the crowd.
Linn-Mar Athletics Director Scott Mahmens provided a prepared statement from Northrup.
“I have a tremendous am ount of respect for (Cassy) and (Megan) and their accomplishments,” Northrup said in the news release. “However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe 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.”
Northrup was a state title contender. He was 38-4 last year placing third at 103 pounds as a freshman. Northrup is ranked fifth with a 35-4 record. Northrup is home-schooled by his mother, Sara, and his father, Jamie, is a minister at Believers in Grace , which is a non-demoninational church in Marion.
Mahmens was asked about Northrup’s feeling about the decision.
“I’m sure it was hard for him,” said Mahmens, who was asked about Northrup giving up an opportunity for a state title. “Obviously, his beliefs are more important to him.”
The moments leading up to the historic event were filled with anxiety for Herkelman’s father, Bill, who was in the section directly in front of the mat.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Bill Herkelman said. “Coach (Wil Kelly) did a good job. He kept her downstairs to warm-up instead of getting all the attention of the media. She came out and we didn’t know until that very last moment that Joel Northrup was going to default to her.”
Herkelman left the mat and had to be brought back by a tournament official to sign the bout sheet, mandatory by the winning wrestler. Then she left the arena floor and didn’t return. Bill Herkelman seemed somewhat empathetic toward the decision Northrup made and didn’t let it cloud the fact his daughter was the first female to win a match in the 86 years of the IHSAA state tournament.
“I respect their decision. I would never second-guess that choice, but I’m still shaking. It’s a win. It’s not an ordinary win or a typical win, but she’s moving onto the next round.”
She will face Indianola sophomore Matt Victor (34-10). Herkelman (21-13) is one match away from reaching the awards stand with a top-eight finish, which would also be a first in Iowa.
Bill Herkelman is staying at the same hotel as many of the Linn-Mar supporters. He said he would like to meet the Northrup family.
“I’d like to see his father and meet him because I applaud them for holding onto their convictions,” Herkelman said. “Even on a big stage like this. That’s something that takes a lot of guts. A lot of people may second-guess it, but your convictions have to be your convictions.”
Otherwise, many of the individuals involved are staying tight-lipped about the situation. Mahmens asked that Northrup be left alone, because he would not have any further comment on the situation. Streicher also declined comment. IHSAA Assistant Executive Director Alan Beste, who oversees wrestling, said he had no comment, but spoke briefly on behalf of Herkelman and Ottumwa’s Megan Black, another female who qualified for the 112 field in 3A. Females have been wrestling on Iowa programs for the last 20 years and 39 were reportedly competing this year, according to the IHSAA.
“The girls and their coaches have said they just assume not give any interviews now,” Beste said to a swarm of media. “Either wait until they’re eliminated or until they’re in the medal round, if they advance that far.”
Northrup, however, will get a chance to wrestle again. Due to reporting to the mat, he was able to remain eligible for competition in the consolation bracket. Mahmens said he will continue to wrestle, but that might change if he meets up against Herkelman in the consolations. Northrup beat Glenwood’s Sam Jameson, 9-0, in a first round consolation.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Mahmens said. “Then we’ll have another statement.”
Mahmens said he could not say when the decision was made, but it was a family decision. The Northrups have the full support from the school.
“We’re going to back our student-athletes no matter what it is,” Mahmens said. “It’s a family decision based on their beliefs.”
Linn-Mar qualified eight wrestlers to the state tournament and had high expectations of a strong finish in the team standings. Northrup’s default hurt that, but that was not brought up in the discussions between the Northrup’s and Linn-Mar administration.
“He’s a wrestler from Linn-Mar,” Mahmens said. “We’re going to support what he’s doing and we’ll move on from there.”
Mahmens said no one tried to persuade Northrup to wrestle, whether it was to avoid the attention or to help the team.
“We told him if he didn’t wrestle what would happen,” said Mahmens, noting the media attention.
Beste said he was not contacted by the family and didn’t consider redrawing the bracket.
“We did not know he was going to do that until he stepped out on the mat,” Beste said.
The interesting fact is that Black took the very same mat immedaitely after Herkelman. She became the first Iowa female to compete in a state match, losing by fall to Bettendorf’s Logan Ryan. She then lost her wrestleback and was eliminated with a 25-15 mark.
“It’s a great feeling to feel that they respect me enough to wrestle me,” Black said. “They’re great wrestlers. They did a great job.”
Black was “somewhat” bothered by Northrup’s decision to forfeit to her female counterpart, but she respected his decision.
“Myself, thinking myself as another wrestler, it kind of bothers me,” Black said. “At least he’s being strong in his beliefs.”
Bill Herkelman, Cassy Herkelman, Cedar Falls, Class 3A, Doug Streicher, female wrestlers, forfeit, Iowa High School Athletic Association, Jamie Northrup, Joel Northrup, Linn-Mar, Logan Ryan Bettendorf, Megan Black, Ottumwa, sara Northrup, Scott Mahmens, state wrestling tournament, Will Kelly, Wrestling