Female wrestlers pin down old stereotypes

Female wrestlers pin down old stereotypes

By Kim Fleming, Round Table Opinion Editor

As Kalin Bower, Middletown High School freshman, gets ready for a typical day of school, she prepares herself for the long day ahead of her. After the seven-hour school day, Bower must attend her daily sports practice after school, much like many of her classmates.

When she finally hears the dismissal bell ring at 2:15, she hurries down to the locker room to get changed. In the locker room, she meets with her friend and teammate, MHS junior Maddie Sheng. At 2:55, the girls enter the wrestling room and sit along the wall, waiting for Coach Jim Schartner to arrive.

The room is full of wrestlers, and Sheng and Bower are the only girls. The majority of the boys are playing a game called “Taps,” in which they throw around multiple balls while trying to stay inside the orange circles on the black wrestling mats. The hectic room bustles with yelling, while the two girls sit calmly along the wall. When the coach enters through the doors, the room quickly becomes orderly and quiet. Practice is ready to begin.

Wrestling has long been primarily a male sport. According to United World Wrestling, the sport started out in Ancient Greece as the most important training for young men. It wasn’t until 2004 that women’s wrestling was even acknowledged as an Olympic sport, nearly 15,000 years after the sport got its start.

“I think it’s primarily a boys sport because it started off as an old sport and that’s all the men that were doing it and so it’s kind of just progressed as in that state,” said Conor March, MHS freshman and wrestler.

Since 2004, the number of professional female wrestlers in the United States alone has grown to more than 250 athletes. More girls have been joining high school wrestling teams in recent years, as well.

“We have two (girls) on the team this year; we’ve had a total of probably about six or seven girls over the course of the last 20 years,” said Schartner, MHS wrestling coach of 44 years.

On a wrestling team of about 30 people each season, this ratio of male wrestlers to female wrestlers is significantly low.

“I think that’s a real challenge for a female to wrestle a male. At this point, there’s not enough female competition, but that’s changing fairly rapidly,” said Schartner.

This couldn’t be more true. Bower, a wrestler of four years, and Sheng, a wrestler of two years, both were advised to start wrestling and were told they’d like it a lot.

“I’ve done jiu jitsu for eight years now and I’ve had coaches tell me I should try wrestling in high school,” said Sheng.

Because wrestling is male-dominated, both girls on the team have experienced some difficulties in their time of doing the sport.

Bower said her biggest struggle with wrestling is trying to make weight for weigh-ins.

Sheng agrees with this and said that another struggle of hers is “not being able to keep up strength-wise with the other guys.”

Female high school wrestlers are most always wrestling males, as there is simply just not enough female competition.

March, who often works with the girls, said, “I think it’s fine; it’s part of the sport.”

The boys on the team don’t see the girls as any different in comparison to them when wrestling.

“I was actually kind of excited just to see what they’d do against other guys and see if there were any other girls that were in the county wrestling,” said Sean Mullican, MHS senior and wrestler.

The team’s chemistry is essentially the same as if it were all boys.

“The common bond is that we (wrestlers) work hard and we are in the room and everyone is doing the same challenges in terms of the effort, the work that you put into it. They respect anyone that is willing to come in that room and is willing to make that sacrifice,” said Schartner.

The sport itself has moved forward immensely, not only in terms of accepting women but also in terms of technique and skill.

Schartner said, “The sport progresses rapidly. In the last 20 years, the sport has changed dramatically: it’s faster, athletes are stronger, technique is better. I just see that if females get into the sport of wrestling, it just helps more people understand and appreciate the sport.”

“The sport is progressing to reach out into different areas of people,” added March.

The girls on Middletown’s team this year said they both plan to continue to wrestle after high school.

“If I can get a scholarship, that’s good. There aren’t many colleges that offer women’s wrestling, but Texas A&M offers a club team,” said Sheng.

Bower and Sheng’s passion of wrestling is fully supported by their families, teammates and coaches.

Bower, whose primary sport is wrestling, said, “My dad got me into it, and I liked the concept of working harder to get toward a goal.”

MHS wrestling manager Becca Ziegler said, “Good for them. They’re doing what they love and they’re a part of the team so they’re going to be treated like the team.”