After competing in 16 all-girls tournaments this past season, OPRF girls wrestling will now have a chance to compete in a state series featuring only girls wrestlers in the 2021-22 season (Photo provided by Jamil Smart).

Girls wrestling is a sport that has seen a significant increase in participation over the last few years in Illinois, so much that the Illinois High School Association has approved a state series that begins next year.

It’s the culmination of hard work by the steering committee of the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA), of which Oak Park and River Forest High School girls wrestling coach Fred Arkin is a co-chairman.

“We’ve been working for several years to convince the IHSA to recognize girls wrestling as a sport,” said Arkin. “There were about 350 girls participating four or five years ago. Next year, we expect to be close to 2,000.”

Arkin is amazed at not only how fast girls wrestling in Illinois has grown in recent years, but also the competitiveness being shown.

“The skill level of the girls has come way up,” he said. “Some of them are incredibly accomplished.”

This year’s high school wrestling season this year was one of an unusual nature. It was abbreviated and moved to the spring due to COVID-19. Arkin said as a result, OPRF’s numbers were down. There were just 10 girls on the roster, compared to 16 last season.

“We had expected about 20 to 25, but nobody was in the building and we couldn’t recruit,” he said.

However, Arkin is optimistic the turnout will improve for the Huskies next season if full, in-person instruction is allowed this fall. He’s also hopeful that the school will hire a female coach.

OPRF’s girls didn’t wrestle competitively until June 21 at the IWCOA meet in Springfield. Even so, the Huskies fared relatively well as five of their seven participants merited all-state honors, including Bentley Hills and Camila Neuman at 101 pounds, Maria Diaz at 126, Trinity White at 160 and Tiffany White at 170. In addition, Keydy Perleta and Bella Tyma competed at 138 pounds.

Tiffany and Trinity White are the younger siblings of Isaiah White — a three-time state champion for OPRF and a two-time NCAA All-American at Nebraska. They placed second in their respective weight classes.

“Tiffany is a top-caliber competitor,” said Arkin. “Trinity came out this year as a freshman with no prior experience and was able to beat some very seasoned wrestlers on her way to the finals.”

Neuman also competed on the Huskies’ boys team at 106 pounds and Arkin believes that experience will only help her next year.

“Camila has shown incredible growth,” he said. “She’s been a dedicated worker and worked out every day during the pandemic.”

Arkin plans to keep his wrestlers active this summer by participating in camps, workouts and invitationals. The hope is that the hard work being done now will pay off in February, when the state finals take place in Bloomington.

“The girls have been working hard,” Arkin said. “They want to win the state title next year.”

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