Art of War rolled out on Xtreme mats


Driving back from the Xtreme Arena Thursday night after watching a bunch of girls fighting on mats, I was a bit bored. When I’m bored, I think of weird things. Cheez-Its usually.

I decided to try some new tech and downloaded an audiobook for the ride home. Bachelordom has me trying to find new things to better myself. Planking and yoga aren’t getting it all done.

I put on Sun Tsu's Art of War and listened to it on the way home. It was a shortened version of the original novel and converted into English. Actually, the transition was extremely clumsy. I think it was a computer generated voice from Amazon or something like that. It was read in just over 20 minutes.

But it caught me as a little ironic that here I was yearning for something classic and definitive, and it came in the form of a lesson in battle - what I spent the better part of five hours covering that day.

Sun Tsu’s analysis is simple and it’s globally recognized as archaic, yet it transcends the generations of battles around the globe. Attacking when your opponent is weakest, plundering resources in victory, burning soldiers in fields, and my favorite - every collapsed dynasty was caused by a spy.

The audio book got me thinking about what I had just witnessed and how it correlates to two Fort Madison girls I watched get on a mat in an arena trying to best the girl across from them.

It was the first time in Iowa history that a girls’ state wrestling tournament, sanctioned by the IGHSAU, was held.


These were battles fought the same way boys do in Des Moines – the same intensity. And these weren’t violets shrinking in any fashion. Nooo. No. No. These were girls who’ve trained to be able to do what boys do. And they get it done.

They bounce from one leg to another, while shaking their arms and getting the energy going.

Mara Smith, who won one match and lost two, got into the tournament after a higher qualifier had to vacate her seed due to an injury.

 Smith went in as No. 31 at 130 lbs. and proceeded to knock off the 15th seed before bowing out. Smith lost in the first round to eventual runner-up champion Chloe Sanders of Vinton-Shellsburg. Her loss to Charity Mickles, a senior from Perry ended her run.

Sophomore Hailey Kemper came into the tournament as the 13th seed and went 2-2 at 100 lbs. She lost to 4th place finisher Mariah Michels (4th seed) and 7th place finisher Ava McNeal (5th seed).


Neither of these girls had ever wrestled before Halloween, when the Bloodhounds launched the inaugural girls' wrestling season.

I was on the arena floor waiting behind the Bloodhound team as freshman Smith hopped,  almost overly anxious, to get on the mat and prove her stuff. Her black singlet with Crimson lettering made her a sleek representative of Bloodhound nation. And she prepared for battle just like her male counterparts.

Kemper took her losses almost unscathed, and certainly undistracted from her plan of getting in more mat time before next season begins in the fall. Smith, too, said maybe in the offseason, she’ll work on her craft, as well.

As I walked through the Xtremely crowded arena, one that I fear will not be sufficient next year if all the girls wrestle in one class again, I noticed these girls did not see themselves as anything other than wrestlers.

These girls are for real. And if the standing room only, sold-out crowd at the Coralville Xtreme Arena didn’t drive home Iowa was ready for girls wrestling, the announcer did.

“We have special news,” said a woman over the public address system at the arena during the day session Thursday.

 “We were just told that this event is now sold out. If you have room next to you scoot over and make a friend, so all of our fans can have a place to sit.

“Guess Iowa was ready for girls wrestling after all.”

Fort Madison was clearly ready for girls wrestling, as well. If Head Coach Kyle Doherty can have two girls out of eight that went to regionals advance to state, and have three other girls just miss qualifying in year one, there are certainly bright things on the horizon.

Congrats Hailey, Mara, Coach Doherty, and the whole Lady Hounds squad on a historic first year for FMHS.

I just wonder what year two will be like… But that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, wrestling, girls, state, column, editorial, opinion, Pen City Current, Chuck Vandenberg, Beside the Point,


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