Tiger lady wrestlers part of greater movement
Fort Scott High School has had girls join the wrestling team before. Last season, Kaley Reyes was a member of the team. But she had to wrestle on the varsity with boys and that created competitive disadvantages.
There are some girls who can wrestle on par with boys. Last week in the Fort Scott Tournament, Paola had Bre Douglas who won the majority of her matches in convincing fashion. But for the most part, it would be better for girls to have their own team. And there’s a growing movement in the state of Kansas for girls’ wrestling to become its own state-sanctioned sport.
Fort Scott’s group of 12 girls are among those who, though they may not be aware of it, are leading the way in the growth of girls’ wrestling in Kansas.
“One of the state by-laws is that there have to be 24 teams registered to create a state championship,” Fort Scott head wrestling coach Alvin Metcalf, Jr., says. “It’s going to be a process to get it where it is for other sports. But we’ve got to get it started somewhere and I’m proud that Fort Scott’s in the middle of it, helping to change the culture and give these girls opportunities. One day, it could be my daughter. I really wish I could put it in perspective for these girls but they’re just up there having fun. They will when they get older.”
Interest in girls’ wrestling has existed since the 1990s. Hawaii and Texas first sanctioned state championships in 1999. But the sport got a spark a couple of years ago when Helen Maroulis won an Olympic gold medal, becoming the first American woman to accomplish the fear.
Last year, Metcalf coached a girl for the first time. But while Reyes was a better technical wrestler than the majority of her opponents, she couldn’t match up with the strength of the boys.
Establishing a separate girls’ program came about when the parents of one potential team member expressed their preference that she only compete against other girls.
“Hannah Vann, one of the girls on the team, has wanted to wrestle her entire life,” Metcalf said. “And her parents wanted her to only wrestle against girls. So I told her, ‘If you can get enough girls interested, I will start a girls’ team.’ And so she got some girls interested and I decided to run with it.
“So I went to gym classes in the school and talked to girls about wrestling. And currently, we have 12 girls on the team. It’s a great thing for them. I’ve told them that they don’t realize it, because when you’re a teenager, it’s hard to see things out in the future, but they’re changing a culture. It may be 10 or 12 years down the road where it changes some little girls’ life where she will do this because of the group who’s doing it now.”
Adding girls’ wrestling doesn’t impact the athletic budget for the high school with maybe the exception of travel to their events. This is because the girls practice at the same time as the boys, wear the same uniforms (singlets) and head protection and work the same coaches.
“There’s really no extra cost,” Metcalf said. “They do everything the boys do. We practice at the same time. And wrestling’s relatively cheap anyway, so it fit in kind of perfectly to give these girls this opportunity.”
Wrestling will give girls attending FSHS another option in the winter. Currently, the only girls’ sport during the winter is basketball.
Metcalf has noted that the girls on his team have shown they’re willing to do the work involved to learn the sport, which will pay off for them in the future both within athletics and without.
“They’ve really, really worked hard and some of them didn’t know how hard they could work and that’s been really amazing,” he said. “They’ve really bought in to the hard work, getting stronger and more athletic. There’s a lot bigger things at stake here than wins and losses. Just the characteristics that wrestling builds. It’s built them for young men for over 100 years and it’s going to start instilling this in young women and when they get into the real world, it’s going to pay dividends for them.”
Of the 12 girls, the majority are either freshmen or sophomores. And although some have wrestled for the Fort Scott Kids Wrestling program, many of them are wrestling for the first time.
“I’ve got a young team but that’s really worked out for them,” Metcalf said. “We’ve slowed things down and really focused on the fundamentals and the basics before moving on to the advanced because you have to walk before you can run. They’re learning and going through the same process together.
“For a lot of them, these movements are different than anything they’ve ever done. Boys who play football, a double-leg takedown is pretty similar to a tackle. Girls don’t have a contact sport like that. But I think some of the girls who have surprised themselves. I think of a girl like Jenna Graham, who’s a freshman. She’s always positive. She’s a leader. Super athletic. Now it’s just doing enough repetitions to create muscle memory. She’s going to be a good wrestler.”
The girls’ team currently has three tournaments on their schedule, including an unofficial state tournament at McPherson in February. However, Metcalf said he’d like to host an event, possibly in January, and there are other coaches looking to host or participate in girls’ events.
“Doug Kretzer, the coach at McPherson, he has a girls team,” Metcalf said. “I think he had 15 girls last year and he has 16 this year. He’s one who’s really pushing for it in Kansas. His daughter is a really talented wrestler. She’s won a lot of tournaments, even against guys. As the year got going and more girls got interested, more and more teams have said they’d do a ‘mixer’ tournament if the other teams could get there. And I’ve said that sometime in January, I’d like to host one as well. We’re getting more involved and kind of building a network of coaches that have girls on the team. So it’s evolving even as we speak.
“I’ve talked to coach (Tucker) Woofter at Spring Hill. He’s got nine girls on his team and he wants to add something during the year. Talking to (Doug) Vander Linden at Burlington, he’s always looking to add things. He’s a huge advocate for the sport. If he could host five or six more events, I think he would. And we may have to become road warriors and go to different places but the girls are more than willing to.”
Six states currently sanction a girls’ wrestling championship — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington —and the hope among advocates in Kansas is that the KSHSAA will eventually join that group. In order for a sport to become sanctioned for championships, a minimum of 24 schools must have a team.
“I talked to Mark Lentz, who is the head of wrestling for the KSHSAA a couple of weeks ago,” Metcalf said. “He asked about the team and he said, ‘It’s going to happen. I can’t say when but it’s going to happen.’”
Colleges are also starting to pick up the sport, including four NAIA schools and one community college in Kansas. Thirty-eight colleges and jucos currently offer the sport and several more will add the sport next season. Many colleges also have club-level programs.
“There’s opportunity for them to move on to the next level and get their school paid for,” Metcalf said. “A lot of the girls don’t have a ton of experience but the good thing for these girls is that the majority of them are freshmen and sophomores so we’ll have two or three more years to develop them if they choose to move on to the next level.”
NOTES — According to a survey presented to the KSHSAA, 112 girls at 60 schools across the state participated in wrestling in the 2016-17 season. Nationally, 14,587 girls wrestled in 2016-17, a 67-percent increase from 2011-12....
States that sanction high-school girls’ wrestling championships
|State (year adopted)||Particpants (2016-17)|
Note: Hawaii and Texas have state bylaws that do not allow girls to wrestle against boys.
States considering adding girls’ wrestling
Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin.
Colleges with women’s teams
NCAA Division II
King University (Tenn.)
Simon Frazier (B.C., Canada)
Tiffin (Ohio, starting fall 2018)
NCAA Division III
Adrian College (Mich.)
Lakeland (Wis., starting fall 2018)
Central Christian (McPherson, Kan.)
Saint Mary (Kan.)
Southwestern (Kan., starting fall 2018)
University of the Cumberlands (Ky.)
Warner Pacific (Ore.)
Wayland Baptist (Texas)
Grays Harbor (Wash.)
Nassau (N.Y., starting fall 2018)
Northwest Kansas Tech (Goodland)
Springfield Tech (Mass.)
Source: socalwrestliergirl.com, waroftheroseswrestling.com