Girls wrestling is no longer an exhibition.

The New Mexico Activities Association’s board of directors approved a measure to create a girls division for the state wrestling championships starting in 2020 during its Wednesday meeting. It was the highlight in a flurry of activity by the board for its final meeting of the 2018-19 school year, and it was lauded by a couple of Northern coaches.

Capital head coach Marcos Gallegos called the decision “awesome” and felt it was a long time coming.

“I think it’s a great chance for these young females to come to get a chance to come out and compete,” Gallegos said. “I’ve had a lot of quality girls on my team in the past, and I’ve felt bad for them when they had to wrestle boys in practice because they are at a disadvantage strength-wise.”

Gallegos pointed to senior-to-be Emma George as an example of that, as she battled injuries in each of the past two seasons that came, in part, because of wrestling boys in practice or at matches. A concussion-like injury she suffered in practice prevented her from competing in the first all-girls wrestling tournament at Aztec in January as well as the girls divisions at the State Wrestling Championships at the Santa Ana Star Center in February.

“Emma really wanted to wrestle and compete,” Gallegos said. “She didn’t care if she was wrestling boys or girls, but in order for her to get some competition reps and live reps in, she had to go against guys and that hurt her. And Emma is one of the toughest athletes I know, both physically and mentally.”

Pecos head coach Benito Martinez said he feels that creating a girls division will open up the floodgates as far as participation. The NMAA showed that the number of female wrestlers during the exhibition phase doubled in a two-year period from 79 to 165 at last year’s state tournament.

“Hopefully, we can get these cowgirls to come out,” Martinez said. “I think in the past, a lot of girls who wanted to wrestle were intimidated in that they had to compete with boys because they can overpower you. One thing I noticed was that girls were a lot more flexible and agile than boys [on the wrestling mat] when they are younger, but once you get older and in high school, the boys tended to mature and become stronger.”

New Mexico became the

18th state to sanction girls wrestling as a sport, according to the NMAA, and the qualification setup to reach the state tournament will see wrestlers go through a regional tournament. The top three finishers will earn medals and the top three teams will earn trophies — just like the boys.

“We are very excited that our association will now officially offer a girls’ wrestling division that will culminate with a state championship,” NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez said. “The sport has been growing fast all across the country, and we are happy to become the 18th state to sanction it.”

Among other items the board of directors approved:

• Students must participate in one-quarter of a team’s schedule in order to be eligible for postseason play, provided that they do not suffer an injury. In that case, the player must remain on the roster and have a certified note from a doctor or physician confirming the injury with the school.

• Updated its third-party filming bylaw to prohibit radio and television broadcasting as well as online streaming without consent of the host school. However, video recording for media representatives is allowed.

• Updated language regarding legally separated parents, stating that a student’s residence remains at that school if one of the parents still lives in the attendance zone.

• An athlete who is ejected for battery on another player during a contest will be suspended from 15 percent of his sport’s game limitation on first offense, as well as complete a sportsmanship course and meet with Marquez. A second violation will suspend the athlete for a full year.

Also, the NMAA anticipates releasing its three-year enrollment figures and possible two-year classification and alignment plan beginning with the 2020-21 school year at its Sept. 18 board meeting.