“My grandma really said I should, so I did.”
Cassey Herkelman on her decision to become a wrestler
“Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip…”
Casey at the Bat
Ernest Thayer, poem first published in 1888
By default yesterday Cedar Falls, Iowa was back in the national news with an intriguing story. It’s not your typical boy meets girl story, but instead a girl beats boy story. (At least in the history books it goes down as a “W.”)
Remember Cedar Falls is the town where Robert Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison Country and where Nancy Price wrote Sleeping with the Enemy. It’s where quarterback Kurt Warner played college ball and bagged groceries before becoming a Super Bowl MVP, and it’s where Ali Frarokhmanesh made a name for himself last year playing for the University of Northern Iowa and making a clutch 3-point shot that defeated the #1 ranked team in the country and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
And of course, Cedar Falls is the international headquarters for Screenwriting from Iowa. There is something about this place that makes this town of 36,145 people special.
This week the spotlight has been shinning just on one resident, Cassey Herkelman—a 112 pound freshman at Cedar Falls High School who became the first female wrestler to win at the State tournament level. The story went national because of a mini-controversy when a male wrestler decided to withdrawal from competition citing “a matter of conviction and religious beliefs” against physically wrestling a girl in the potentially violent sport. (The same decision, by the way, he made a few years ago when he faced Herkelman in a youth tournament. His pre-tournament record this year was 34-4.)
The student wrestler’s father, Jamie Northrup, is a pastor and had this statement,”We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that.” Fair enough. (I think most people ideally wish there were separate divisions for guys and girls, but there are not enough female wrestlers in Iowa as there is in other states.)
Herkelman just wants to wrestle. It’s something she’s been doing competitively since she was in second grade. Sometimes competing in 40 tournaments a year. (Her father Bill qualified for state his senior year of high school.) Herkelman has made enough of a name for herself that last year she was listed in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd:
CEDAR FALLS, IOWA > Wrestling
Cassandra, an eighth-grader at Peet Junior High, won the 105-pound class in the middle school division at the U.S. Girls’ Wrestling Association national championships on April 4. The week before, she won at 103 pounds in the 6th- to 8th-grade division at the Girls Folkstyle Nationals. She was Iowa’s 105-pound middle school champion in 2010 and 111-pound titlist in ’09.
So with the forfeit yesterday of her male opponent Herkelman became the first female wrestler to win an Iowa state tournament match.
Herkelman plans to go to national competitions where she will wrestle against other girls and dreams of being on Team USA and wrestling in the Olympics in 2012 (London) or Rio de Janeiro (2016).
But the road that leads to England or Brazil starts back here in Cedar Falls where she will continue to train—mostly away from the spotlight. But you can follow the journey on her website cassandraherkelman.com.
The take away once again is little successes often lead to larger successes. And your job as a storyteller is to bring to light those unusual stories in unusual places. Tell them as 2-minute You Tube videos or as a feature film.
By the way, there aren’t many movies about wrestling but if you want taste of what it entails, check out the 1985 film Vision Quest starring Matthew Modine.