Women’s Wrestling team started at MIT

For the first time, MIT will be sponsoring a Women’s Wrestling team

This upcoming year, MIT will be sponsoring its first-ever Women’s Wrestling team — a step in the right direction, according to Coach Donald McNeil, who said, “I see that there is a clear need to have separate men’s and women’s teams.” 

The sport of wrestling dates back to over 20,000 years ago, when it was illustrated in caves around Europe. Wrestling was also one of the first events in the Olympic Games in Greece. Since this period, wrestling has continued to evolve and quickly become one of the fastest-growing sports at the youth and high school level. During the 2018–2019 season, over 247,000 students competed in the high school boys’ division and over 21,000 in the high school girls’ division. The number of female competitors grew from about 16,500 to 21,000 in just one year, a massive increase in participation that will likely continue. 

Despite the rapid growth of girls’ and women’s wrestling, there have been limited opportunities for women to compete in college until recently. Most recently, the University of Iowa broke major news, becoming the first Power Five school to offer women’s wrestling. According to the Division 1 Women’s Wrestling organization, there are currently 26 Division 3, 19 Division 2, and three Division 1 NCAA schools sponsoring women’s wrestling. There are also opportunities for women to compete in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (the club division that MIT competes in), the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the junior college circuit.

In the past, MIT has had women on the men’s wrestling team roster. For example, former MIT women’s wrestler Elena Glassman, who wrestled for the team between 2008–2011, was forced to travel long distances to find women-specific practices and competitions. She was only able to find female practice partners in western Massachusetts, and the closest competitions for female wrestlers were in Canada. This year, the plan is to have a small group of wrestlers compete and set the ground for future years. Coach McNeil is very enthusiastic about this group, stating, “The few girls that we have on the team have the capability of being extremely successful competing nationally for MIT. I am very excited for this group of women. My goal is to continue to help grow the women’s team and to provide them with as many opportunities to compete as soon as possible.”

Harvard, Brown, and Northeastern have also recently established women’s wrestling clubs, and the hope is that some matches can be scheduled with these teams and MIT for the upcoming season. This is a big improvement from the days when Glassman had to travel over an hour for practice partners and over four hours to compete against other women. 

There are many advocates hoping to strengthen the women's wrestling environment, including Glassman — now a professor at Harvard — who came and spoke to the team this past week. Their efforts have encouraged the team, with McNeil saying, “I believe we will see some additional all-American performances from athletes on both the men’s and women’s teams.”

Ultimately, the women’s wrestling team prides itself on being inclusive. The team has students with varying wrestling backgrounds, from total beginners to athletes who have been wrestling since their youth, and those looking to win national titles to others looking to stay in shape. Often, the more experienced wrestlers strive to help the newer wrestlers understand wrestling techniques. There is no judgement in the room, and the team is happy to have beginners and advanced wrestlers alike. If you are interested in joining or have questions, please message