He did this because his opponent was a girl.
There is already plenty of local and national news coverage of this story. Joel said, concerning his decision:
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy Kerkelman [his opponent] and Megan Black [a second female state qualifier] and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other High School sports in Iowa.”Joel, I'm sure, will catch flack for this. Among the list of adjectives used to describe his decision, stupid and chauvinistic are likely to appear near the top. But you know what? It is not stupid to stand up for what you believe. And honoring women is not chauvinistic.
In fact, the word that comes to my mind when I hear this story is integrity. I don't often see public examples of integrity, so I feel it is important to point them out when I do. Some have said that integrity is what you do when no one else is looking. There is truth in this. But integrity it also what you do when everyone is looking: when you are asked to put aside the things that no one will ever see (what you believe in) in order to gain something that everyone could see.
No one would have even really noticed if Joel had just gone ahead and wrestled Cassy. After all, that is what he was there for, it is what folks expected! And what a show: the first girls to make it to state! So much well deserved enthusiasm around her accomplishment! There might have been some gentle ribbing (a still, small voice, perhaps?) for "beating a girl" or, worse yet "losing to a girl". But I'll bet no one gives any of the guys who go ahead and wrestle the girls any grief .. well, unless they lose of course (chauvinists!) .
But standing up for what you believe is right even when (especially when!) it hurts. From Psalm 15:4b "He keeps his word, even when it hurts" Or, if you prefer Seinfeld, "You know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation .. and that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them."
Joel was hurt by his decision. Wrestling, you see, is not a sport. You play sports. You don't play wrestling. You wrestle or you don't, there is no play. Wrestling is hard work and being the best requires extreme dedication. Did you know that it is not uncommon to lose 4-6lbs in a single wrestling practice? Have you ever lost that much weight in a single day? Joel has been doing this for years, even before high school. You don't endure an entire season of wrestling practice, cut weight, attain a 5th seed ranking at state and then just casually toss aside a shot at the state championship. No, the decision to default this match resulted from agonizing introspection that concluded: "My physical and emotional sacrifice up to this point and the opportunity to be a state champion do not together outweigh the sacrifice that would be required of my convictions."
That is a decision worthy of respect.
Do you know someone with the guts to actually stand up for what they believe? Would they do it if it would cause them deep personal pain or cost them fame, money, power, or their life? And what if no one else would even notice if they didn't? Do you know someone like that? A person of integrity?
Psalm 15, a verse of which I quoted above, ends with the following promise. It is a promise that I think is appropriate for a champion wrestler like Joel:
Psalm 15:5b "He who does these things shall never be moved."