RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Thanks, Mark. Oklahoma City University, home of the Stars, has a new team in its constellation. Besides old standards such as baseball, basketball, golf and soccer, the private university has added to its sports menu women's wrestling. They're one of only eight colleges nationwide to offer women's-only wrestling as a varsity sport.
Larger schools have been hesitant to add the sport to their program, but officials at OCU and other smaller schools say it's a great untapped pool of tuition-paying recruits, and they point out that women's wrestling was made an Olympic sport in the year 2004. Here now to talk to us about this new emerging sport and its popularity is Jim Abbott. He's the athletic director for Oklahoma City University. Hey, Jim.
Mr. JIM ABBOTT (Athletics Director, Oklahoma City University): Good morning, Rachel. How are you?
MARTIN: Doing just fine. So, Jim, you're wrapping up your first year of the new women's wrestling program at OCU. How'd it go?
Mr. ABBOTT: Well, it went terrifically. In fact, we have wrapped up our first year. We announced, I guess, February of 2007 that we were going to have this program, and here in May of 2008, we have finished our first year and been very successful at it.
MARTIN: How many women did you have on the team? Do you call it a team?
Mr. ABBOT: We ended up with approximately 30 members on the team. They came from all over the country, Texas, California, New York, Oregon, really just about everywhere except Oklahoma.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: So what was the final tipping point that made you decide that you wanted to add this to the sports programs at OCU?
Mr. ABBOT: Well, I think, as we add any sport, Rachel, we - there are a variety of factors that we look at. I was surprised, the more that we looked at the sport - number one, initially, I was not aware that it was an Olympic sport. So I think that had a lot of influence on us. I think, you know, our university exists to provide an education to young people, and to us, it doesn't matter if you're a marketing major or music major or what you might do. Ultimately, we want to educate young people, and we saw that there are almost 5,000 girls in the United States that wrestled in high school.
Mr. ABBOT: But they really only had a handful places to continue their career in college, and so, frankly, the more we looked at it, the more it made sense to us.
MARTIN: But you were initially a little bit hesitant, as I understand.
Mr. ABBOT: Well, I was hesitant. The primary reason for that was that we added men's wrestling as a sport only two years ago. So we had a relatively new coach who was about six months into his first season, and my real hesitance was - I guess there were two things, one was let's take time and get your relatively new men's program off the ground.
And then the other was, we have pretty limited facilities to add - to essentially double the numbers of people that would be using those facilities for practice. That was going to be a stretch for us. But ultimately, as I mentioned, we looked at it and said, what the heck, let's move forward on this.
MARTIN: Did you get any flack from people - I mean, wrestling is a serious business as I understand in Oklahoma. People take the sport very seriously. Were there people out there who thought, women's wrestling, are you kidding me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ABBOT: There were. I guess you could say that most of the country probably is a little uneducated about women's wrestling. I've told this story several times now. We had a press conference to announce the introduction of the sport, well-attended, every media outlet in the state was there. When the nightly news came on, not long after the story about adding the sport, my phone rang and it was my brother-in-law. And I answered the phone and he said, Jim, I have one question about women's wrestling. Is it going to be mud wrestling or oil wrestling or exactly how is that going to work?
(Soundbite of tutting)
Mr. ABBOT: You can imagine I wasn't really pleased with it - but...
MIKE PESCA, host:
It's funny, though.
MARTIN: It's funny, but Jim, that could have - it speaks something larger - people are unsettled, I guess, about the idea of a women's contact sport, perhaps. Why is that different than rowing or basketball? I mean, why the cracks about mud or oil? Is it that contact, direct contact, that people are just like, eh, this is a little weird?
Mr. ABBOT: Well, it may be. I mean, I think you have people on both sides of it. But let me tell you, wrestling is no different than rowing or basketball or soccer or baseball or any other sport that we play. Ultimately, these young women work hard every day, and they work just as hard and they're just as serious about it as any other student athlete we have.
Here are the two sides you have on it. You have the uneducated side, the maybe want to dismiss it because they're not familiar with it. And then the other side of it is probably that segment of America that sees women as little girls with curls in their hair and a ribbon and a pretty Easter dress, and really does not allow them to expand beyond that.
And so, I'll just be honest with you, I wasn't sure what to expect and our team is - just to go back to my original statement. They work just as hard, probably harder. Wrestling is - you know, baseball practice, you hit a few grounders and you catch a few pop flies, but wrestling practice, you're...
MARTIN: You're working.
Mr. ABBOT: You're getting beat up every day. So I can't explain society's view on it other than to, in my opinion, say that ultimately we're trying to get educated about the sport, and probably we tend to compartmentalize our thoughts on what girls ought to be doing.
MARTIN: Well, Jim Abbot, thank you for talking with us about the new emerging sport - emerging popularity in women's wrestling. We wish you good luck in your upcoming seasons.
Mr. ABBOT: Well, I appreciate that very much. Thank you for the time.
MARTIN: Thanks, take care. Jim is the athletic director for the University at Oklahoma City.