By Kyle Daubs
Being a father of two daughters, all I can say is that I am impressed.
I’ve been coaching track and field for almost a decade and the common question that those who know me ask is what event my oldest daughter Penelope is going to run when she is older. They always assume she is going to be a runner.
Mind you, Penelope is 3 years old, but my response is always the same.
I don’t care what sport she does when she is older as long as she is happy and gives it her maximum effort.
So, when I watch from afar the three girls wrestlers at Charleston High School, all I can do is smile and applaud them. Wrestling has been dominated as a male sport for its entire existence.
Sophomore Mackensie Williams probably said it best when she explained her reasons for wrestling.
“I believe girls have always wanted to try it,” said Williams. “I just think that they weren’t brave enough to try it in the past.”
CHS senior Maddie Bryant and her sister, junior Alaynia, never worried about any of that because their parents start them wrestling at a young age.
“They thought it would be fun, “said Maddie Bryant. “I grew to love the sport. We both ended up messing around when we were younger.”
Both Bryant sisters are former Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state qualifiers at the freshman/sophomore level. Both have been competing against male counterparts all year. While their personal match records might not be flashy, both have been competing to make their opponent work, win or loss.
“It’s been pretty great. It shows that girls can do it too,” said Maddie Bryant.
Williams didn’t know that girls wrestling was an option last year. The reason that she went out for the sport was that her mother was talking to her about potentially joining. Williams said that her mother wrestled in college, while her dad was a former discus thrower. Both convinced her to participate.
“It’s pretty cool knowing that both sports I do and both sports that I love are because of my parents,” said Williams. “I’m pretty thankful for my parents getting me into it. It’s pretty cool doing something my parents did in high school.”
Williams said that she has never been interested in her athletic options.
“I’ve always wanted to do things differently and not be the same,” said Williams. “I tried softball, and it didn’t work out, so I thought let’s try something different. I thought of trying wrestling. I have been in love with the sport ever since. Hopefully, I can go to college for it one day.”
Evaluating the results is tricky for the fairweather wrestling fan. The trio of CHS wrestlers has mainly wrestled male athletes all year. CHS coach Mike Stanley said the Trojans were supposed to participate in a girls-only tournament this year. However, COVID-19 protocols forced the tournament to cancel at the last minute so they instead had to participate at the Urbana Invite.
“It was so disappointing,” said Stanley. “We had everything set up. We had both of us coaches split, ready to take the boys to Urbana and the girls there, but it didn’t happen.”
The opportunity to see what the girls could do against girls in their class was something that excited everyone on the team. Stanley said that despite the girls participating in the same weight class as their male counterparts, it’s not exactly a fair draw.
“Our girls will wrestle up in weight in exhibitions after the meet, but it’s not the same even if they were to wrestle the boys in the same weight class given the natural strength,” said Stanley. “When they get the chance to wrestle against girls in their weight class, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
All three girls have aspirations to qualify for the state series. Maddie has two colleges currently interested in her, one being in Lincoln and another in Iowa. Bryant said she is extremely focused to make a run towards qualifying.
“I just need to keep working harder and try to get to girls state,” said Bryant. “I’d like to place and beat most of the girls who are there. Anything I can do to make myself a better wrestler.”
Williams still has two years after this season.
“I don’t care if I win anything at state,” said Williams. “I just want the experience and to wrestle against other girls and do my best.”
I am excited to see what happens because this female state series shows growth. It shows equality.
However, I hear the same tired arguments when I address girls wrestling – “That seems wrong. Girls shouldn’t be wrestling at all.”
To those, I say you are wrong.
Coach Stanley lives wrestling. He is a former IHSA state-runner up in 1999. According to him, this is more normal now than it has ever been.
“The longer I have been in it, the more you can see it grow,” said Stanley. “It’s becoming more normal, especially in middle school. Now that they have added a state series for girls, I feel that the interest is going to grow. It makes it more interesting for the girls who are joining.”
Stanley hopes girls start wrestling at a young age to develop the skillset early.
“It’s important that they start young,” said Stanley. “That’s no different than the boys in that regard. Maddie has been doing it since Kids Club and you can see her experience because she has that wrestler’s mentality. She moves like a wrestler out there. When they start younger, they get that natural balance, and wrestling feels natural. It’s pretty special to see and be a part of.”
For any girl out there wondering if they should join the sport, these CHS wrestlers have a few words for you.
“It’s not a bad sport,” said Bryant. “It’s pretty easy once you get used to it. You can go out and do your own thing. It’s better to go out with the guys. Then, you can show them what you can do.”
Williams couldn’t agree more.
“They are going to have to accept the fact that girls want to do these sports now. You only live once,” said Williams. “Go out and try it. Nothing is going to hurt if you go out and try. If you don’t like it, fine. That’s still better than not trying to do it at all.”