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BLOOMINGTON — Mike Manahan has solicited help in his desire to bring girls wrestling to the Midwest Nationals Wrestling Tournament and, perhaps in time, to the Illinois High School Association.

Sally Roberts, a two-time world bronze medalist and three-time national champion wrestler, will be the special guest for this weekend’s 15th annual Midwest Nationals at Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center.

Roberts is founder of “Wrestle Like a Girl,” an organization designed to “support the startup of new high school wrestling programs and increase the number of sanctioned girls high school state tournaments across the United States.”

This year’s Midwest Nationals is to include new divisions for girls/women. Manahan, the tournament director, said he will have a better idea of the female entries Friday when weigh-ins take place from 5-8 p.m.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said of girls wrestling gaining traction. “I think once girls know they’re going to be wrestling girls, there might be more girls get involved.”

Manahan said 12 states have a girls wrestling state tournament.

“We’ve had two the last two years in Illinois not associated with the IHSA,” Manahan said. “We had 123 girls entered last year.”

The Midwest Nationals, hosted by the Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission, attracted more than 1,100 wrestlers in 2017 for the fourth year in a row. Manahan anticipates having “a thousand and hopefully more” this year when wrestling begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Divisions range from first grade through college and above.

Wrestlers can register until the weigh-ins on Friday. Registration forms can be filled out at Shirk Center prior to weigh-ins or downloaded at www.midwestnationalswrestling.com. Entry fee is $50.

“We started the tournament to give back to wrestling,” said Manahan, a former Hall of Fame wrestling coach at Olympia High School. “This is the 15th year and it’s gone well. We’ve given $28,500 back to area wrestling programs the last four or five years.

“We have a lot of good people helping us and that’s what makes it go. When it starts, I get out of the way.”

Belts will be given to champions in all divisions. For the third straight year, a raffle will raise money for the Miracle League.

Admission on Saturday will be $10 for non-coaches. Coaches will be required to purchase a wristband for $15 that will give them access to the floor.

The event is organized by the Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission, Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association and Illinois Coaches Association. Midwest Laborers is the title sponsor.

Direct economic impact of the Midwest Nationals is expected to be more than $165,800.

Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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