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Paving the way for Utah Girls Wrestling By Riley McKenzie, 12/05/18, 9:15PM MST
Imagine walking out onto the mat to face your opponent. You have prepared months and months for this match, and your heart is pounding out of your chest. You fix your ponytail and get into position. When you look up, you see an insanely muscular male walking towards you. You feel as if all of your preparation is about to go down the drain. Is this how you should feel about the sport you love? Girls wrestling is on its way to being treated as its own, to maintain fairness and equality for all competitors.
In Davis School District, they are slowly but surely doing their best to make a change. Girls are competing in the Junior Highs, female coaches are being hired, and the high school team at Northridge High has nearly doubled in its amount of girls in the last year. According to an article called, "Girls Wrestling Takes Off in Utah High Schools Despite Challenges” by Patrick Carr, he states that the national number of female wrestlers in the US was 7,351 in 2010-2011, and in 2016-2017, that number nearly doubled to a solid 14,587 girls participating in wrestling.
Maria Gomez is the first female educator to be hired in the state as a wrestling coach. She’s the assistant coach at both Northridge High, and North Layton Junior High for this upcoming season and was the first woman to charter an all girls club in the state of Utah. Maria was instrumental in creating and sustaining an audience for girls wrestling in Layton, Utah that has bloomed with the help of Rachel Meyer, NUGW Coaches Benita Karo, Cherri Webster, former Coach Courtney Maples (now assisting at UMA Girls), former Utah Girls Director Billy Cox, Olympian Nigerian Wrestler (now NUGW Head Freestyle Coach ) Coach Amarachi and Folkstyle Head Coach Lau. With the help of surrounding local Head Coaches, one that took it upon himself, Northridge High Head Coach Kevin Kennington that opened his wrestling doors to support and assist Maria in the journey that sustained the beginnings of Northern Utah Girls Wrestling. She has also created a competition platform called The Amazonian Battle Series. It's an all girls tournament that has grown from 1 to 3 tournaments in the last year with the help of Craig LaMont and Caleb Hardy hosting an All girls Battle this season.
If you go further south to Vernal, Utah you have newly appointed USA wrestling Utah Girls National Coach Candace Workman with many wrestling first and pioneer for women's wrestling in the state as a wrestler; is now giving back to the community as an assistant coach at her local Jr.High program and a Head Coach for her Tiger League youth program. She shared some experiences in how her new role as a coach for predominantly boys in her community: It's been interesting going from wrestler to coach. I’d get a lot of people coming up to me and asking who I was. I can't even count how many times I got the, “Are you a mom or manager who knows a lot about wrestling?” In Vernal I’ve always been apart of the program even when I was living and training in other states. As the Head Coach last year I did have a few parents say they were a little concerned when they heard their son had a girl coach, but after a little while I had those parents coming up to me saying they wouldn't have it any other way because I really do know wrestling and I would be the only coach taking notes for all their kids matches and things like that. When I was growing up in Utah people weren’t used to seeing a girl wrestler. Now you'll see a few at every tournament and its not a big deal, most people don't even think twice. I think women coaching will have the same progression. It's going to be slow at first. Well have to prove that we have the same knowledge and skills to be coaching wrestling as men do and over time I'm sure it’ll be normal to see women in the corner who aren't just moms or managers . As a kid I never really thought of myself as a girl” wrestler, I always just wanted to be a wrestler. Now, as a coach, I don't really think of myself as the “ girl” coach. I am a coach who happens to be a girl and I'm equally qualified to be sitting in that corner coaching both the boys and girls. - Candace Workman
The ripple effect of leadership is evident and can build future generations stronger in the wrestling community another state accomplishment down south at American Leadership Academy Female All American Hailey Cox hired on as the Jr High Head Coach and Assistant at the high school wrestling programs. She has been a wrestler since she could walk, born and raised in a wrestling family, former resident at the Olympic Training Center, Cadet World Team member, another girls wrestling pioneer and has had many other firsts through her wrestling career and now will have many more as a female coach paving the way for Utah Girls Wrestling.
Why is it important for more women to get into coaching? Women are an untapped resource and will help widen the talent pool for prospective coaches. Women also have different life and leadership experiences and qualities; this is something that the corporate world is becoming increasingly aware of and is capitalizing on. Sports also need to recognize the attributes women can offer and ensure they consider the experience women can bring to coaching. Women are also well placed to understand the psychological and social pressures female athletes may experience. (Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation)
The Utah High School Athletic Association has seen and heard the voices of the state and has created a Female Equity/ Emerging Sports Committee, which is creating the process and application for future sports to be sanctioned. Maria Gomez serves in that committee with other superintendents, directors and principals that see the need to create opportunities and equality in the state for female athletes. USA wrestling Utah has had a girls committee this year directed by Craig LaMont which serves and focuses on growing and creating opportunities for girl wrestlers in our state as well.
As you can see, schools are on their way to gaining a bracket for young female wrestlers. Adding official brackets for girls only will allow females to wrestle their peers, and eliminate any fears that parents and competitors may have. With the help of the community around us, this change has impacted many lives, and many lives to come, but we all need to work together to ensure that there is a safe and ensuring environment for wrestling to occur. “We should not require young girls to test themselves against males in this sport in order to be a competitive wrestler, or be valued as a good wrestler. It is a tough and demanding sport as it is, and young girls deserve the right to compete with other tough female wrestlers.”-Katherine Fulp-Allen Shai.
In the state of Utah there are countless of fathers for daughters, mothers for daughters, high school coaches , female coaches that are creating and paving the way to welcoming, safe, and empowering environments. When female wrestlers are participating in practices, participating in tournaments, taking advantage of clinic opportunities you are thanking your Leaders for creating that space they made for you. We would like to thank the many that were not mentioned in this article, but know that you are appreciated by your community, your parents, your girls they know who you are, please continue the selfless work, because in the end you are changing a child's life one wrestling match at a time. The future looks bright when you train a girl to wrestle you train a generation to succeed.