YVCC wrestling welcomes women to team
by DAVE THOMAS
YAKIMA -- Just a week ago, Yakima Valley Community College administrators expressed concerns about expanding the wrestling program to include women.
Since then, those questions were apparently answered to their satisfaction as the school announced Tuesday that it will indeed allow women wrestlers to compete, and announced that Rene Mortensen will coach the team.
"Any number of questions needed to be answered to our satisfaction before we could move forward," Tomas Ybarra, the school's vice president for instruction and student services, said at a news conference at Sherar Gym. "We now feel more confident to continue down this path."
YVCC wrestling co-coach Mike Schmitt welcomed the decision.
"It's huge," he said. "The administration and coaches are very excited about this opportunity."
Ybarra said the biggest obstacle was finding the financial resources. Much of that was alleviated when the Parker Youth and Sports Foundation stepped up and donated \$5,000 for scholarships for this inaugural season.
"That was absolutely crucial to getting this done," Ybarra said.
Quickly moving forward, the school announced that Mortensen, a former high school and college wrestler, and former coach Bob Spain will join the staff as volunteers working specifically with the women.
Mortensen, who was unable to attend Tuesday's news conference, competed in both high school in Lancaster, Calif., and at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, and was most recently the boys wrestling coach at her prep alma mater.
"She's outstanding," Schmitt said. "She's really motivated and passionate about the sport. We can learn a great deal from her. She'll be fantastic for our program."
With the coaching staff settled, the Yaks now turn their attention to wrestlers, a process that has already begun with seven verbal commitments, Schmitt said.
That group includes Gloria Ortega from Arizona, and Tina Hernandez from California, both of whom were placers in the national prep championships this past season, according to Schmitt. Another interested wrestler is Ashlee Phy, a three-time Washington state champion from Mount Baker.
"With just a little information out there, we've gotten calls nationwide from coaches and ladies interested in coming here," Schmitt said, adding that the sport has grown dramatically at the college level since its debut as an Olympic sport in 2004.
Since then, 24 colleges in the United States have added women's wrestling, with several more planning to do so in the next couple of years, and the number of Canadian schools offering the sport jumping from two to 24.
YVCC is on the leading edge of that movement, joining only Highline Community College as colleges in Washington offering the sport, and is one of just five in the Northwest, joining Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., and Simon Fraser University and Douglas College in British Columbia, according to Spain.
YVCC will be forced to alter its scheduling, seeking tournaments and meets that offer competition for both men and women, but despite a lack of schools in the region offering women's wrestling, Schmitt said there are still plenty of scheduling opportunities. That includes two tournaments each in British Columbia, Oregon and California, as well as the Auburn Duals, and the possibility of larger colleges traveling to Yakima for competitions.
"We'll have to cut down on the events we go to ... but there is competition around and it won't be too much farther than where we were going before," he said.
While the decision offers new opportunities for female student-athletes at YVCC, it will not have an impact on the school's ongoing Title IX complaint, Ybarra said, since women's wrestling is not yet a sanctioned sport under the National Junior College Athletic Association.
However, as the sport continues to grow at colleges nationwide, athletic director Ray Funk said there is an increasing chance that it will become sanctioned.
"That's a realistic possibility," he said, "but as far as a timeline, I couldn't put a guess on when that might happen."