Girls on the Mat

The wrestling program creates a girls team

Wrestling has been a male-dominated sport since its inception. However, according to The Topeaka Capital Journal, in May of 2019, KSHSAA allowed wrestling to open its doors to females interested in the sport. It has quickly grown in popularity as schools all over the United States have added girls wrestling to the list of athletics offered. Wanting to be a part of this trend, head wrestling coach Cody Parks said girls wrestling has started to establish itself within the district.

“The initial conversations were about space, team, budget, uniforms, everything like that when you start a program,” Parks said. “Southwest just kind of took on the burden of that.”

Meetings were held with district administration to discuss the realities of what having a girls wrestling program would look like. After much deliberation, a plan was established.

“There was a two-year probationary period, which meant that they were going to figure out if it worked or not and decide if there was going to be enough interest to continue the program,” Parks said. “Now it’s the fastest growing sport in the United States. It definitely took off.”

With the official stamp of approval, the girls wrestling program was created. Struggles faced the team such as gaining numbers, integrating the girls into the sport and creating an entirely new way of running the program. Junior Haley Flores joined the team when these problems were most prevalent.

“Last year was definitely a test run,” Flores said. “It was kind of rough and a lot of the girls went through all the trial and error type of things. But this year, [we’ve] done specially customized practices with different moves that fit more the girls’ styles, because they understand that boys and girls wrestle completely differently.”

After a couple of years to develop the program, most of these problems have almost resolved themselves. However, the issue that continues to threaten the team’s existence is finding enough girls interested in the sport. Junior Morgan Miller said she remembers slim numbers when joining the team.

“When I first joined as the manager freshman year there were only two girls,” Miller said. “[The next year] when I actually decided to wrestle myself, we had about 13 girls and then we ended the season with five.” 

The program recognizes this constant battle and has conducted many promotional events to inform more girls about the opportunities to join the team. 

“We’re working on social media posts consistently, but it’s a work in progress,” Flores said. “We’ve also got a lot of new merchandise that we’ve been handing out.”

These promotional tactics hold multiple goals; to get girls interested in wrestling and people throughout the community aware of female wrestlers. According to the girls in the program, despite these efforts, girls wrestling continues to go unnoticed. This issue continues to face not only the team but female wrestlers everywhere.

“I think that girls wrestling needs to be acknowledged more because, at some tournaments that we go to or ones that we’ve been to in the past, there are some very rude things said by other coaches and by some male wrestlers about girls wrestling,” Miller said. 

Miller said fighting for this acceptance is a strenuous battle. As time passes and the numbers of female wrestlers grow, the girls hope to gain recognition of their hard work and dedication. However, it is a slow process. The coaches within the girls wrestling program acknowledge this and are working to find a solution.

“I would say our coaches have definitely tried to take the time and really recognize what we have done and what the girls have accomplished,” Miller said. 

Although this is a step in the right direction, Parks said many more changes need to be implemented to ensure both the girls and boys teams are getting the proper attention and training. 

“My ultimate goal would be that they have their own place, their own coach, their own program, their own groups, their own everything so they’re not lumped together,” Parks said. “I don’t like that they’re lumped together because I think it marginalizes both of them. It takes away from each group and I think they need to be their own standalone group.”

Many challenges have faced the girls wrestling program since the beginning, but the girls and coaches have met them head-on. Numbers will grow and support will come with it, all thanks to the girls who have taken the initiative to join the team in the first place. Now, future generations of girls will be able to wrestle due to their bravery and commitment to the sport.

“We are kind of like trailblazers, so we get to pick our own path and choose our own thing which that’s really unique and cool,” Flores said.