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2022 USMC Junior and 16U Nationals breaks entry record with 6,646 total participants

by Koral Sugiyama, Special to

2022 Fargo celebrations: Ella Pagel (MN), Mason Gibson (PA)
2022 Fargo celebrations: Ella Pagel (MN), Mason Gibson (PA), Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

FARGO, N.D.–– The combined USMC Junior and 16U Nationals, hosted in Fargo, N.D., is the largest wrestling tournament in the world. In 2022, the event got even bigger and better.

In 2019, the competition reached record numbers at 5,374 athletes. After missing the 2020 year due to the COVID pandemic, it grew to just under 6,000 participants in 2021. The 2022 event, which ended Friday at the FargoDome, broke the records for a third time in a row with a combined 6,646 competitors. This number is for the actual athletes who stepped on the mat to wrestle.

Tony Black, USA Wrestling’s Director of State Services, credits the growing number to the importance that USA Wrestling and the individual state associations put on this event as well as the states embracing the automatic qualifiers that were added just last year.

“Automatic qualifiers got added last year. The state leaders look at it and recognize what events should be rewarded by doing well—age level national championships,” said Black.

Each state has their own individual qualification procedures, but USA Wrestling also includes automatic qualifiers that don’t count against the athlete limit each state is allowed for the men’s divisions. The 16U and Junior men’s team for each state are only allowed four wrestlers per style and weight class. However, the automatic qualifiers allows for the possibility for more athletes to attend.

COVID left the wrestling community without a 2020 Junior & 16U National championship. While it did not affect 2021’s final entry number, that does not mean COVID did not slow it down.

"[In 2021], there was still a lot of uncertainty with wrestling for our state associations in the spring leading up to the summer. Now they are able to do their normal recruiting pitches to kids in their state and tell them why they should be a part of their state teams coming here,” said Black

The men’s divisions bring in the most athletes with four different tournaments, but this year the Junior women saw the most growth with a 281 athlete jump in their tournament, falling just short of 1,000 entries. Five of the six tournaments saw growth in participation.

USA Wrestling’s Manager of National Events Christina Hargrove believes that growth in women’s wrestling at the high school level is due to new opportunities. More coaches, both men and women, are pushing and advocating to have women in the wrestling room. Their athlete’s male counterparts are becoming more accepting to share the mat with females at all levels. A total of 36 states have sanctioned women’s wrestling and recognize it as an official sport, a huge increase from just a few years ago when only six states had official girls championships.

Entry Numbers 2022 vs 2021

• 16U women’s freestyle: 518 vs 349 (+169)

• 16U men’s freestyle: 1436 vs 1317 (+119)

• 16U Greco-Roman: 1044 vs 943 (+101)

• Junior women’s freestyle: 944 vs 663 (+281)

• Junior men’s freestyle: 1563 vs 1584 (-21)

• Junior Greco-Roman: 1141 vs 1044 (+97)

Grand Total for 2022: 6,646