Q&A: Baldwin High coach Kit Harris discusses growth of girls wrestling

Kit Harris has been around the sport of wrestling for more than three decades, so he’s seen the sport change and grow during his time as a competitor and a coach in Kansas.

Harris wrestled at Baldwin High before becoming the head coach at Washburn Rural for a couple of years. But an offer to return to his alma mater came calling, and Harris came back to coach the Bulldogs in 1999.

He’s remained the Bulldogs’ coach for more than 20 years. At Baldwin, Harris has coached numerous state champions and even a team title in 2015.

Harris has always been a supporter and contributor to the sport, wanting to make it better while continuing to help it grow. The latest growth has been the addition of girls wrestling programs across the country in high school and college.

Girls no longer have to compete with boys. The Kansas State High School Activities Association added a girls division for the 2019-20 season. A year later, it was split into two classes (5A-6A and 1A-4A). 

Baldwin won the smaller class division state championship last winter. His former school of Washburn Rural has won the other two girls state titles. 

The 2021-2022 Baldwin High girls wrestling team will enter the season as the defending Class 1A-4A state champions. The Bulldogs have 25 wrestlers out this season, which is an increase from 20 a year ago. (Photo submitted by Baldwin High coach Kit Harris)

Harris took the time to discuss girls wrestling and how he wants to see it continue growing. His Baldwin team has increased participation numbers from 20 to 25 from last year to this year.

1. What did it mean to you to see the KSHSAA add a girls division to wrestling?

“I saw it as a great opportunity to grow our sport and offer it to more kids. As it has turned out, it has been a tremendous spark and boost to the sport. The girls have brought with them a lot of passion and enthusiasm and it has been a lot of fun.”

2. Was a girls division long overdue? Why or why not?

“This is a tough question to answer. Long overdue, I am not sure about that. But I do know that years of effort went into growing the girls side of wrestling enough to show KSHSAA the numbers were there. Once KSHSAA sanctioned, it exploded. It has grown exponentially just in this last two years since the official sanctioning announcement. I remember by the end of that first year, watching Regionals and State and thinking, girls wrestling is no joke, these girls are flat out getting after it. They are really into this.”

3. How can you see the sport of girls wrestling continue growing?

“I think now that so many girls are involved, we will see a lot more camps and clinics and events. It is hard to put on an event, if you don’t feel like many will show up. But that’s not the case now. So, we are going to see a lot more mat opportunities geared toward girls only. And they will just get better and better from here on out. And the girls are so excited about it. They are enthusiastic because it is new to them. That’s another added fact.”

4. I know tragedy struck your team shortly after state last year, but how special was it to see your girls team win the team state championship? How did it compare to watching your boys team win it years ago?

“Yes, our team went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, tragically losing one of our beloved team members. But watching the girls do what they did was awesome. It was a lot like our boys team. It felt like we couldn’t lose on the backside, we just kept getting win after win after win, and so many pins. We climbed our way to the lead and held on from there. For our girls team last year, their confidence just kept growing and growing over the course of the season and they were a lot of fun to coach because of that. By state, they were ready to go, they wanted it pretty bad. We came into state excited and ready to go.”

5. Is there anything you would change about girls wrestling moving forward? If so, what changes would you make?

“I want it to continue to grow it and split the divisions. Let every class be in their own class. It is not a fair situation for small schools to have to compete against the big schools in the team race. I also want more and more schools to take girls wrestling seriously. We need to give the girls what the boys have – their own tournaments, duals, team scoring, awards, coaches. We need to treat them like a legitimate program. If we want them to take it seriously, then we need to do the same.”

– story by Jimmy Gillispie

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