Va. high school athletes push for girls’ wrestling league

There’s a growing movement in Virginia high schools to create a girls’ wrestling league.

Teenage wrestlers in Alexandria shared why for many coed teams that have multiple-time champions who are ready to compete, it’s past time for a change.

Senior Emma Cox wrote about her experience with wrestling in her common application to college.

“I’m really proud of where I am now as a senior. I’ve been really successful. I recently got second place at one of the biggest girls’ tournaments in Virginia,” Cox said.

She’s one of nine girls on the team at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology who want it to be a women’s sport. There is similar interest from other schools across the state, said Mike McCall with the Virginia High School League. The groundswell of interest from athletes across the state indicates that girls will likely have their own league in the next few years, McCall said.

“Women’s wrestling is the fastest-growing sport in America. And I think that we’ve seen that a lot in Virginia, with it just being sanctioned,” Cox said.

Cox’s coach Charles Phillips acknowledges that although teams became coed years ago, not everyone is comfortable with girls wrestling boys. He recalled a moment when a boy came to him for support after losing a match to a female wrestler.

“I said stop crying. And he says, ‘No coach, you don’t understand. I got beat by a girl.’ And I said, ‘Nah, dude. You’re looking at this wrong. You got beat by a better wrestler, who happens to be a girl.'”

Influential wrestlers who came before the current team, such as Brianna Ta, deserves the credit for getting more girls interested in the sport, Phillips said. He thinks generating interest in younger players has created the powerhouse team that Thomas Jefferson has now.

“Girls, actually, do it more technical. Like a guy trying to learn wrestling, he’s gonna try to power his way through it … It is hard to pin a girl … they’re just more flexible. And girls aren’t going to ego through it; they want to do what they got to do to win,” Phillips said.

However, there comes a point where strength takes over.

“As girls are getting up in weight, it’s a stressful thing … because it becomes about some strength … We haven’t had a girl that’s 186 pounds or 176 pounds be able to compete really well on the varsity level against boys,” Phillips said.

Since the years girls have been on the wrestling team at Thomas Jefferson High, senior Audrey Czarnecki said few of her classmates comment on her playing a so-called boys’ sport.

“They just think it’s really cool that I’m wrestling, since I guess there is still kind of a general stereotype that wrestling is a boy sport. But then they look at me and they’re like, I’m really nice in the classroom. And then they can see me being tough on the mat, being really aggressive and just putting out all my effort,” Czarnecki said.

It was Czarnecki’s parents’ idea for her to try out for wrestling.

“They thought both wrestling would be a good way to just train my physical abilities, to get me stronger. But to also help me defend myself,” she said.

Cox is happy to see that the sport has become more inclusive even in the short four years she has been competing. The league recently did away with a mandatory hair net for women, which Cox said was not enforced when boys had longer hair.

“So I’m really glad that it was taken away. We have access to things like women’s singlets now, which are a lot more high cut, and we don’t have to wear shirts under our singlets anymore, which is a lot more comfortable,” Cox said.

“I think that with all of these, like new improvements, we’re making the sport more accessible for girls; and I think they’ll maybe be more likely to try it out. And maybe not as afraid as well,”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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