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USA Wrestling shatters records with 7,134 total entries in the 2023 USMC Junior/16U Nationals in Fargo

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Tate Naaktgeboren (Iowa) scores takedown in 2023 USMC Junior Nationals freestyle finals.
Tate Naaktgeboren (Iowa) scores takedown in 2023 USMC Junior Nationals freestyle finals. Photo by Robbert Wijtman, CSC Photography.

FARGO, N.D. – The combined USMC Junior and 16U Nationals, hosted in the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D., is recognized as the largest wrestling tournament in the world.

In 2023, not only did the tournament see substantial growth in overall participation, but it also saw growth in five of the six national tournaments included in the week-long competition.

USA Wrestling blitzed the overall record with 7,134 entries this year, blasting through the 7,000 athlete barrier and topping the 2022 record of 6,646 athletes by 488 athletes, a healthy increase of 7.3%.

2023 USMC Junior/16U Nationals entries by tournament

• USMC 16U Women's Freestyle Nationals: 740

• USMC 16U Men's Freestyle Nationals: 1,595

• USMC 16U Greco-Roman Nationals: 1,206

• USMC Junior Women's Freestyle Nationals: 853

• USMC Junior Men's Freestyle Nationals: 1,596

• USMC Junior Greco-Roman Nationals: 1,144

Total: 7,144 total entries

Of the five tournaments which saw growth in 2023, the 16U Women’s Freestyle Nationals had the most increase, with 222 more entries than last year, which is a whopping 42.8% increase in just one season.

Other tournaments with impressive increases were the 16U Greco-Roman Nationals with 162 more wrestlers and the 16U Men’s Freestyle Nationals, with 159 more entries. Both the Junior Men’s Freestyle Nationals (with 33 more athletes) and the Junior Greco-Roman Nationals (with 3 more athletes) saw growth as well.

The only event which saw a decrease was the Junior Women’s Freestyle Nationals, which went from 944 athletes last year to 853 wrestlers. The main change that impacted this event was the fact that for the first time, the 16U Women’s Nationals and the Junior Women’s Nationals were held at the same time. In the past, many 15- and 16-year old women athletes that were also in high school could compete in both tournaments. This year, almost all of the athletes chose to compete in one of the tournaments. In fact, only three women wrestled in both the 16U and Junior divisions. There were more individual women athletes competing in Fargo this year, even though the total in the Junior division was lower.

2023 USMC Junior/16U Nationals entries, in comparison to 2022 record event

• 16U women’s freestyle: 740 vs. 518 (+ 222 entries)

• 16U men’s freestyle: 1,595 vs. 1,436 (+159 entries)

• 16U Greco-Roman: 1,206 vs. 1,044 (+162 entries)

• Junior women’s freestyle: 853 vs. 944 (- 91 entries)

• Junior men’s freestyle: 1,596 vs. 1,563 (+33 entries)

• Junior Greco-Roman: 1,444 vs. 1,141 (+ 3 entries)

The growth this year came at the 16U level, where there were 543 more entries in the three national events than last year. Also of note is the tremendous growth in entries over the last five years, with over 2,000 more total entries than in the 2018 Junior/16U Nationals.

“We continue to see growth in this tournament, especially at the 16U level. Since 2018, participation in that age division has gone up nearly 50%. That is due to our state associations and clubs recognizing the importance of competition at this level. Likewise, all spring and summer, we have seen record participation numbers at our regional championships and national duals events,” said Tony Black, USA Wrestling Director of State Services.

Each state has their own individual qualification procedures with a maximum of four athletes per weight class. USA Wrestling also includes automatic qualifiers that don’t count against the athlete limit each state is allowed for the men’s divisions. Many individual state associations had larger teams in Fargo this year, as more athletes take advantage of qualifying through the automatic qualifiers each year.

“The USA Wrestling’s Events department is excited to be a part of the record-breaking 2023 Junior and 16U Nationals. There were numerous groups of volunteers that helped make this event a gigantic success. Our state leaders, referees, competition management officials, coaches and numerous individuals went to great lengths before, during and after this event. USA Wrestling would like to thank all those groups who pitched in to create an unbelievable experience. We would also like to thank North Dakota State University, the FargoDome and the Fargo/Moorhead community for their continued support in welcoming and accommodating our record-breaking efforts,” said USA Wrestling National Events Director Pete Isais.

There were numerous improvements in the presentation of the USMC Junior/16U Nationals this year, which changed its schedule to have both the Junior and 16U Nationals events in each discipline held side-by-side. Championship finals for the Junior and 16U Nationals were held next to each other on two raised mats, with women’s freestyle finals on Sunday night, men’s freestyle finals on Wednesday night and Greco-Roman finals on Saturday night.

The championship finals presentation was enhanced this year with additional graphics of each finalist matchup placed on the video scoreboards. Graphics for each national champion were designed and posted on USA Wrestling’s social media platforms for the first time as well.

#Fargo2023 is one for the record books, as the world’s largest wrestling tournament continues to evolve, grow and improve moving into the future.