BOARDMAN — Hans Rockwell knows the feeling of winning a state championship.

When he wrestled at Riverside High School, he won state titles in four weight classes.

The 2015 Riverside graduate will pass on his expertise and passion for the sport this winter after being named head coach of the Pirates girls program.

“We had six girls last year, and two placed at district,” Rockwell said. “I hope to get 10 girls or more out for the team this year. I’m going to start recruiting when school starts. I will be at registration.”

Oregon has been slow to sanction girls wrestling, but took a big leap in 2019, holding its first girls state tournament. All 14 weight classes were challenged, but each bracket featured just four girls.

“I thought they should expand that,” Rockwell said of the four-man bracket. “State is intimidating if you have never been before. They need the exposure, which means more than four girls. Girls wrestling is growing rapidly, but in my opinion, Oregon is behind. This was the first year, I’m sure they will make changes.”

In 1990, there were 112 girls who participated in high school wrestling, and they were competing against the boys.

Over the past 19 years, girls wrestling has been of the fastest-growing sports in the nation.

During the 2017-18 school year, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported there were 16,562 girls participating, an increase of 1,975 from the year before.

Washington ranks third among states with female competitors (1,222), while Oregon is fifth (498) — something Rockwell, 22, would like to improve on.

“Honestly, it’s time to start supporting girls wrestling,” Rockwell said. “My senior year, my brother (AJ) and I got a chance to work out with the women’s world team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. You could see how important it was to them and how it affected their lives. It was a good experience. They were pretty tough and it was hard to score points. They were tough, mean, and they knew what they were doing.”

Elmira, Sweet Home and Hood River have successful girls programs in Oregon, something Rockwell wants for the Pirates.

“We need to get this program started,” he said. “Washington wrestling for girls is great. I want us to be up there.”

After high school, Rockwell wrestled at Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University. Starting this fall, he will be working at Umatilla-Morrow Head Start.

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