High schooler Cassy Herkelman gets a default victory after Joel Northrup backs out due to religious grounds
Credit: Steve Pope/AP

High school wrestling star Joel Northrup had his eye on the Iowa state championship – until he found out he’d have to compete against a girl in the first round.

Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore whose record was 35-4 wrestling for Linn-Mar High School this season, handed Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman a win by default at the tournament Thursday.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments,” Northrup said in a statement, referring also to Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black (the two girls are the first to make the state wrestling tournament in its 85-year history). “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 that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner,” the statement continues. “It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

While Cassy wasn’t available for comment, her father, Bill Herkelman, tells the Associated Press that he respects Northrup’s decision.

“It’s nice to get the first win and have [Cassy] be on the way to the medal round,” Bill Herkelman wrote in a text. “I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.”

Northrup’s father, Jamie Northrup, is a minister in the independent Pentecostal church Believers in Grace Fellowship, which teaches that young men and women shouldn’t touch in a “familiar way,” said Bill Randles, the church’s pastor, according to The AP.

“We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do,” Randles said. “Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that.”

Though he gave up his shot at a championship, it’s not over yet for Northrup. He was still eligible for the consolation rounds, and he won his first match later Thursday by major decision.