By Oliver Lazenby
The four girls on Blaine High School’s wrestling team weighed in and were ready to go. They had put in time conditioning and running drills with the boys, but they didn’t know if they would actually get to wrestle.
“Are we for sure wrestling tonight?” freshman Josy Delgadillo asked head coach Colt Warren.
“Some of you are,” Warren replied.
“Ooh, ooh, can you say who?” Delgadillo asked.
Warren didn’t know, because he hadn’t yet met with the other coaches to see if their wrestlers would face off with girls. Boys, faced with the possibility of losing to a girl (or getting teased for beating a girl) often won’t wrestle.
“That’s really annoying. We’ll be out there and ready to wrestle and the guys might decide they don’t want to wrestle us,” said Amy Avena, also a freshman. “It’s up to the guys.”
Blaine has an official girls wrestling team this year for the first time, but the team’s size presents some challenges for the girls. The girls suffer from a lack of wrestling partners. They wrestle each other all the time, and the Blaine boys team doesn’t have many lightweights for them to wrestle.
They’re participating in six girls’ tournaments this year, including one of the biggest in the state this weekend at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek. But at regular meets, the best the girls can hope for is to wrestle in an exhibition match. For the girls to wrestle more, girls wrestling needs to grow. Fortunately for them, it is.
The number of girls wrestling in high school has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to the National Federation of State High School Association’s (NFHS) annual sports participation survey. In the 2014-15 school year, the most recent year for which NFHS has statistics, 11,496 girls wrestled, a 16 percent increase from the year before. Participation in boys wrestling dropped 4.3 percent in that time, according to the survey results.
Though Blaine High School is an example of that growth, it’s lagging behind some local schools. Mount Baker, Lynden and Arlington high schools all have nearly 20 female wrestlers. Mount Baker and Lynden even have separate coaches for the girls teams.
“The girls are doing great, they really are,” coach Warren said. “They’re very resilient and they’ve put up with a lot of stuff this year that bigger teams wouldn’t have to. I’m really proud of them.”
Warren graduated from Mount Baker High School in 2004. When he was in high school, girls hardly existed in the sport.
Washington state didn’t hold its first girls’ state championship until 2006, and it was one of the first states to do so.
“It was a completely different culture back then,” Warren said. “We don’t necessarily think girls are these delicate flowers that need to be protected anymore. They can do what the boys can, and they’re proving that.”
Warren has embraced girls’ wrestling and finds them as many exhibition matches as he can. But they have fewer tournaments then the boys. Tournaments offer more opportunities to hit the mat, because competitors get placed in a bracket where they may wrestle multiple opponents.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating. Last night I didn’t know if they’d get a match,” Warren said. “I think they realize that, because it’s the first year, we’ll have these growing pains. Next year I expect it to go more smoothly. ”
Warren is hoping to see a snowball effect in girls wrestling, with more girls signing up as they see others participating in the sport.
Though Warren and other coaches have embraced the program, not everyone has.
“I think every practice we always hear some sly remark,” said Yesenia Torres, the team’s only senior. “It just pushes us more, just to prove to them and ourselves we can do it.”
Other girls on the team faced skepticism from their parents, at least until those parents watched them wrestle and saw how much they enjoyed it.
It’s Torres’s first year wrestling. She moved around a lot her first three years of high school, making it inconvenient to participate in sports until now, her first year in Blaine.
The other three girls on the team started wrestling in seventh grade. Delgadillo, Avena, and Megan Davidson, all freshmen this year, were part of a crew of about eight girls who wrestled at Blaine Middle School during their seventh and eighth grade years.
We got a bunch of girls to make a pact to join the team,” Davidson said. “Not all of them joined, but that’s ok.”
Some of the girls had watched their older brothers wrestling and they wanted to feel the same sense of pride their brothers got from the sport. That was the case for Avena, and she’s found that sense of pride and accomplishment through wrestling.
“At the end of the practice you feel so tired and you’re like, I can’t believe I just did that,” she said. “That was just so amazing to realize I could push myself that far.”
At the middle school, the girls found an ally in wrestling coach Damon Higgins. Higgins has stepped in to coach the high school girls at their tournaments, which often overlap with boys tournaments.
It takes time from Higgins’ already-busy coaching schedule, but he wants there to be a program in place when his eighth grade daughter gets to high school next year, and he thinks girls should have the opportunity to wrestle.
“My belief is that everybody should have equal access,” Higgins said. “There is nothing that a girl can’t learn from wrestling that’s not good for them. You learn about yourself. Wrestling teaches self-discipline, it teaches you how to handle defeat, it teaches you what to do about life when it gets difficult.”
Before a dual meet against Sehome and Bellingham on January 18, the girls stretched and wrestled each other at the far end of the mat, on the outskirts of the team. They’re part of the team, but their own island as well.
“The coaches yell at us like we’re boys, they teach us moves just like the boys, they make us run just like the boys,” Torres said.
But still, they’re hoping to recruit more girls. Higgins has four female wrestlers at the middle school, so more could be on the way.
“We need more girls out there to represent Blaine,” Delgadillo said. “I think if we could get more girls to just go to one match they’d see how inspiring it is and why we love it.”