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Northern Michigan University adds women’s wrestling as varsity sport for 2021

American Helen Maroulis celebrates after beating Japan's Saori Yoshida for the gold medal during the women's wrestling freestyle 53-kilogram competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees on Friday approved a recommendation from the NMU Department of Athletics to begin a women’s wrestling program.

Northern will be the first public university in Michigan to sponsor the sport for women as an NCAA scholarship-level program.

The team will compete as a club team during the 2020-21 season and will move to NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity status starting in the fall of 2021.

“Northern has a tradition-rich history in women’s wrestling at the Olympic level and men’s wrestling at both the NCAA and Olympic levels,” NMU director of athletics Forrest Karr said in a news release. “We are excited to bring women’s freestyle wrestling back to campus.”

Northern hosted women’s wrestling as a non-NCAA varsity sport from 2004-12. It was part of NMU’s then U.S. Olympic Education Center and was under the direction of USA Wrestling. In all, 76 women participated in it, including Olympians Randi Miller, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing games; Adeline Gray, a participant at the 2016 Rio games; and Helen Maroulis, a gold medalist in Rio.

Former U.S. Olympic Education Center athlete Helen Louise Maroulis celebrates after beating Japan’s Saori Yoshida for a gold medal in women’s wrestling at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP file photo)

The program also had team members who garnered 29 national championship gold medals, 14 World or Pan American medals and five USA Wrestling outstanding wrestler awards. That team competed at the junior, university and senior world championship levels.

Recently, the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Coalition was created to bring women’s wrestling through the NCAA “emerging sport” process, which is the first step toward official recognition of the sport by the NCAA and toward the eventual creation of an NCAA championship event for participating programs. During the Division II business session at the NCAA convention in Anaheim, Calif., held in January, women’s freestyle wrestling was added to the emerging sports for women list.

“Being added to the emerging sports list was a big step because it will accelerate the process of reaching 40 institutions sponsoring women’s wrestling, which will enable the NCAA to offer a championship tournament for the sport,” Karr said.

He added that a coach will be hired this summer to be able to recruit student-athletes throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

“We plan to renovate locker room space and we are fortunate that our facilities can otherwise accommodate the new women’s wrestling program without a major building project,” he said.

Karr also noted that as Northern’s female population within the university student body has grown over the years, adding women’s wrestling will help the institution continue to make sure that the numbers of men and women participating in intercollegiate athletics are substantially proportionate to overall enrollment.

“Providing participation opportunities at rates proportionate to university enrollment is an important component of (federal) Title IX,” Karr said.

Including women’s wrestling, Northern will offer 18 NCAA sports — 11 for women and seven for men — by the 2021-22 academic year. The department currently sponsors 17 NCAA sports.

NMU also offers men’s Greco-Roman wrestling and men’s and women’s weightlifting as part of its national Olympic Training Site. Beginning this fall, NMU will also sponsor men’s and women’s alpine ski teams, which will compete as varsity members of the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association, and a coed e-sports team, which will be a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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