The speech Manhattan High head wrestling coach Shawn Bammes wrote in support of adding a girls’ wrestling program wasn’t delivered.
Bammes brought his talking points to last week’s USD 383 Board of Education meeting, but he didn’t need them. “They were so much on board,” Bammes said, “that they didn’t even listen to me talk.”
The board unanimously approved Manhattan’s new team last week, which means that the Indians will field a girls-only wrestling program for the first time in school history. Bammes, who was named head coach in April, is delighted by the development.
“I love it for this reason: Not all girls want to play basketball,” Bammes said. “Not all of them want to play volleyball. Now we can give them another opportunity (with) something that’s a little different from those mainstream sports.”
Girls have been allowed to wrestle at Manhattan for decades. Bammes wrestled alongside All-American Kera Pemberton during his time as a student in the ’90s. But KSHSAA didn’t explore the idea of a girls’ division until 2019, when it voted to sanction the sport with a two-year transition period.
Manhattan has maintained “three or four” female wrestlers on its roster since then, but it could’ve had more. Bammes said he knows several girls who participate in other combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA). When Manhattan’s wrestling staff reached out to them, though, the girls declined, usually for the same reason: “I don’t want to wrestle boys.”
Now they don’t have to. Bammes said that girls enrolled in KSHSAA’s girls’ division can only wrestle other girls, and the Indians’ schedule already includes several tournaments with girls divisions.
They’ve already welcomed two transfers — one from Louisiana, one from Alaska — with previous wrestling experience, and Bammes said “numerous” girls have joined the Indians’ youth program over the last two years.
He hopes other athletes are on the way.
“We’re going to have more opportunities,” he said. “The interest has really risen, and I’m hoping that will lead to an increase in our numbers.”
Bammes will hire an extra coach to help coach the girls’ team, too. And his “dream” is to hire a woman for the position.
He’s confident a man could handle the duties — the techniques Manhattan will teach its girls only are modified “a little bit” from the ones it teaches the boys — but he wants his new coach to share his new team’s perspective.
“They’ve been through it,” Bammes said of prospective female coaches. “They’ve had the same experience. To be able to find someone who has that knowledge to help our girls’ program would be a huge benefit to our girls involved in the program.”
Hiring a woman also matters to the still-budding sport’s future, which Bammes feels obligated to nurture. He learned from talking to in-state college women’s wrestling coaches (Kansas has five of the country’s 83 programs, according to the NCAA’s website) that most of Kansas’ female collegiate wrestlers are not education majors. Bammes can help reverse that trend with his on-staff opening.
“It’s a perfect job opportunity,” he said.
Now seems a fitting time to offer it, too. Four years ago, just six states sanctioned high school girls’ wrestling. Twenty-seven more have added the sport since. And last week, Manhattan opened its gym for a girls-only team.
Bammes’ next step: foster the environment that will fill the mats.
“(Girls’ wrestling) is not going away,” Bammes said. “We want to make sure we do it right. … We want to make sure that way we can provide the best opportunity for those girls who do come out.”