Tuesday, June 9, was a big day for girls high school athletics, as the FHSAA sanctioned girls wrestling and sand volleyball for the 2021-22 school year.
Twenty years ago, as a sophomore at Winter Springs High School, Kristen Iannuzzi competed in what was then a new step forward for girls’ athletics in Florida.
Iannuzzi, who has just finished her 12th season as the wrestling coach at West Orange High School, competed in the first three girls state invitational championships in wrestling and remembers what that moment was like — a big deal.
Since then, the sport has exploded in popularity but had not been recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
In a 13-0 unanimous vote by the FHSAA board of directors during a meeting Tuesday, June 9, girls wrestling — along with sand volleyball — finally was given the recognition it has long deserved, and it’s an important moment for female wrestlers, Iannuzzi said.
“It’s monumental,” Iannuzzi said. “It’s really been a long time coming. … I wrestled at the first three state championships for girls in Florida, and the fact that it is not sanctioned yet — you’re talking over 20 years later — I think has hindered the sport a little bit, but not so much in the fact that I think the people who are heavily involved understand. I think Caroline (Schmitt’s) accomplishments are incredible whether it’s sanctioned or not. … I just think sanctioning it gives it that extra credibility for outsiders looking in, and it gives the girls the attention they deserve.”
The attention to the sport has grown alongside the participation in girls wrestling. According to the National Federation of High Schools, participation in girls wrestling has seen an increase every year since 1990. In Florida, more than 700 female wrestlers participate in the sport.
“I just think sanctioning it gives it that extra credibility for outsiders looking in, and it gives the girls the attention they deserve.”
— Kristen Iannuzzi, West Orange High head wrestling coach
As news of the vote spread around the wrestling community, it was met with excitement — even though many were hoping it would be implemented this upcoming season and not in 2021-22. Now that it’s in place to happen, though, many coaches — such as Dr. Phillips girls wrestling coach Kirwyn Adderley — are already looking ahead.
“It’s not necessarily relief, as it is to say, ‘OK, the roadmap is set for the future, so we can put that behind us — the sanctioning — because it seemed it was hanging over (us),’ and now we can move forward,” said Adderley, whose Panthers program is one of the most dominant in the state. “We’re sanctioned — we’re matching up with some of the other states that are sanctioned — and it just takes the cloud off of it, I guess.”
Not only will athletes and teams be recognized for their achievements by the governing FHSAA body, but also there are now tremendous opportunities for girls and programs.
“It will help with recruiting; it will help establish the full girls programs,” Iannuzzi said. “I do hope more schools take the dive in getting girls wrestling out. I’m excited for the future of wrestling. … The benefit of that just adds to the depth of the sport.”
TAKE TO THE BEACH
Much like the news of girls wrestling receiving its FHSAA sanctioning, the sand volleyball community in the area also celebrated a victory for its sport.
Among those in the community is Dr. Phillips’ Emily Loftus, who coaches both indoor volleyball and the school’s new sand volleyball team. For her, the vote was more than just the sanctioning of a sport.
“The FHSAA is continuing to look out for female athletics, and I’m hoping that trend continues, and hopefully we’re going to see even further steps,” Loftus said. “As long as we are able to kind of see the growth in beach volleyball the way that we have seen it with girls indoor volleyball, then I’m going to be a really happy coach, and I’m going to be really happy for the sport in general.”
Between the year-round warm weather and the proximity of top volleyball club organizations in Central Florida, sand volleyball has seen a rise in popularity in the state.
By giving the sport FHSAA sanctioning, the belief among sand-volleyball athletes — such as Windermere Prep’s Kirah Bolanovich and Taylor Scaletta — is that it will help grow the game to heights that it has never seen before.
“I do think this is going to create so (many) more opportunities for all of us now that more people will be playing,” said Bolanovich, a rising freshman. “It’ll be easy for us to go pick up a partner if we want to play one weekend, because more people will be playing the game.”
And not only will it open up the game to more girls, but also it is a positive step for female athletes seeking to achieve equality.
“This could not be better — this is definitely the ideal situation for every girl, because we want to be recognized as athletes, as well,” said Scaletta, a rising junior. “I think it’s wonderful that they are trying to do that — to shed some light on us and show the world what we can do, what we are capable (of) and what we are doing.”
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