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Trailblazing female high school wrestler urges Unit 5 to boost support for girls wrestling

 Girls wrestling has grown significantly in the last five years, according to Margaret Lehr, the first female high school wrestler in Illinois.
Greg Cullen
"Wrestling 64" by [ Greg ] is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Girls wrestling has grown significantly in the last five years in Illinois, according to Margaret Lehr, the first female high school wrestler in Illinois.

The first female high school wrestler in Illinois history is asking Unit 5 schools to add girls coaches to the wrestling program.

Margaret Lehr wrestled against boys for Libertyville in the 1990s. She said Libertyville had a large wrestling program and an abundance of staff to make her competition against boys possible.

Fast forward close to 30 years and Lehr said there are now female wrestlers at Normal Community and Normal West high schools. She has told the Unit 5 school board there are also girls events available now if there could be enough staff to drive them to those matches.

"This sport teaches you more about yourself than any other sport I know: determination, discipline, self awareness, strength, grit. The list goes on and on. However, these girls know they are wrestling on borrowed time, someone else's team, someone else's mats, with someone else's coaches. These girls deserve to know it is their sport too," said Lehr.

She said a half century after the passage of the Title IX gender equity and civil rights law, resources for women's athletics still lag.

"The number of girls participating in the sport has grown steadily over the last 10 years with the most growth in the last five. Sadly, there are almost no teams or coaches exclusively for girls. In comparison, 434 high schools in the state offer boys wrestling as a varsity sport," said Lehr.

The IHSA authorized girls wrestling as a separate sport last year, and Lehr said the first girls high school wrestling state tournament will be in Bloomington in February at Grossinger Motors Arena.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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