When her children attended Half Moon Bay High School, Joan Fulp would drive them and the rest of the girls wrestling team to and from tournaments. This was just the tip of the iceberg for the El Granada resident’s contribution to the sport.
After teaching physical education at Cunha Intermediate and El Granada Elementary schools for more than 30 years, Fulp retired in 2015 and dove headfirst into volunteering for USA Wrestling. For the last five years, she was the co-chair of the USA Wrestling Girls High School Development Committee, which offered education and information to dozens of state high school athletic associations to promote girls high school championships across the country. This month, Fulp became the first woman elected to be the executive board’s second vice president.
Fulp expressed her gratitude and said she was enthusiastic about continuing to expand high school girls wrestling.
“I’m honored. I never guessed that I would be working at this level,” Fulp said.
In the last three years, the number of girls wrestling in high school has doubled, according to Fulp. When she began at USA Wrestling, there were six states with official girls wrestling programs. Now, there are more than 20 states signed up and more than 28,000 girls wrestling. USA Wrestling began hosting state championships in the early 2000s, but the California Interscholastic Federation didn’t host an official state championship until 2011.
“It took 20 years for six states to hold a championship,” Fulp said. “In the last three years, we’re now at 29 states. We’re really pushing forward here.”
Though Fulp’s contributions have grown girls wrestling dramatically around the country in recent years, her family is intertwined with wrestling history, and has impacted the sport across California for decades. Fulp’s daughters, Sara and Katherine, were two of the most dominant wrestlers ever to grace the mats at Half Moon Bay High School. Sara, the eldest, is a seven-time U.S. National Women’s Wrestling team member and is a member of the Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame, which includes household names like Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and Moises Alou. As a Cougar, she won three California state championships from 2001-2003.
When she attended Menlo College, Sara became the first-ever three-time collegiate champion, winning in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Katherine won two national titles at Menlo College. In high school, she won state titles in 2004 and 2006 and finished runner-up in 2003 and 2005. She’s been an alternate for the Olympic team in 2012 and 2016.
Joan Fulp’s late husband, Lee Allen, was a trailblazer for expanding women’s wrestling. He was one of four wrestlers to represent the United States at the Olympics in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He competed in freestyle in 1956 and finished eighth in Greco-Roman in 1960.
In 1990, Allen organized the first world team qualifier for American women in Vallejo. After coaching at Skyline College for 32 years, he coached at Menlo College for nine years, where he taught both of his daughters. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Fulp has been a longtime proponent of expanding girls wrestling so high-schoolers could complete solely against their own gender, which for many years was not an option. By necessity, Sara competed against boys for a time, but when sister Katherine entered high school it was no longer the case.
“The goal is to get the equitable competition to engage these young ladies in a sport that is so dynamic and teaches so many life skills,” Fulp said.
While Fulp’s new title means more administrative duties, she hopes the biggest impact will be left on the mat. With more girls participating than ever before, she believes the future is bright.
“I think the exciting piece here is that I can help open the door for the next generation of women who are going to be leaders in our sport,” she said.
This version corrects the subhead to reflect the true nature of Fulp's position.