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DES MOINES, Iowa — After a standout season in which he went 35-4, Joel Northrup had every reason to dream of winning an Iowa wrestling championship this year, but he gave it all up before his first state tournament match Thursday.
Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore who competes for Linn-Mar High School, said his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to wrestle Cassy Herkelman, a pony-tailed freshman from Cedar Falls who is one of the first two girls to qualify for the tournament in its 85-year history.
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.”
His father, Jamie Northrup, told The Associated Press later Thursday that his son struggled with the decision.
“He’s poured his heart and soul into wrestling and into being the best in the state,” 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.'”