Wrestling Like a Girl, in Vermont
When someone says “you wrestle like a girl” it is generally accepted as something negative. that is not the case in Vermont. Vermont has a growing number of girls taking on the sport of wrestling, not only on the mat, but in coaching positions. A catalyst for this trend is the visibility of woman in wrestling taking the National stage. In 2016 Helen Maroulis won the first ever gold medal for the United States in Women’s Freestyle Wrestling at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, defeating three-time gold medalist Saori Yoshida of Japan. In her web blog dated February 2017, Maroulis states: ” I strongly believe all girls should wrestle, or at the very least give wrestling a try. I know what the sport did for me mentally, physically, and emotionally and I believe every girl can benefit from such experiences the sport gives you. However, I believe the biggest battle is not convincing girls why they should wrestle, but more so getting their parents on board.” I think Maroulis has a point. http://www.helenmaroulis.com/blog/why-girls-should-wrestle
Vermont High School wrestling teams have been slowly increasing the number of female wrestlers among their ranks. The culture around wrestling and coaching the sport is changing and paving the way for girls to make their unique mark in the sport. Rachel Hale wrestling for the powerhouse Mount Anthony Union High School made history in 2012, becoming State Champion in the 106 lb weight class. Coach Casey Moulton from Harwood Union School broke the gender barrier becoming the first women coach for Vermont High School Wrestling.
This season Burr & Burton Academy tops the numbers list with the most female wrestlers at four. Springfield has three girls. Mill River, Mt. Abraham, St. Johnsbury and Vergennes all have one girl on their teams. Burr & Burton is one of two teams in Vermont coached by women.
Coach Sara Barker from Burr & Burton Academy has strong wrestling credentials of her own. She told me via email that she has been wrestling since she was in fourth grade. “Wrestling was my passion and my life,” Barker said. Coached by her dad all those years, she went on to wrestle in high school for long-time coach Charlie Pritchard at Mill River Union High School. Barker describes her dad as her coach and “biggest fan”. After High School she attended college at Springfield Technical Community College and achieved a 5th Place at Nationals.
She admitted that competing for ten years and then not wrestling was difficult. Barker returned to Mill River to assist the team. It was a way for her to stay connected with Wrestling, and give back. Barker was offered the Assistant Coach position at Burr & Burton. In 2016, Coach Zac Monforte stepped down and Barker applied for the Head Coach job. The rest is history. Her team of men and women wrestlers is respectful and appreciate the knowledge and expertise Coach Barker brings to the table. In addition, I am told there is no goofing off at practice.
In a phone interview I spoke with Burr and Burton Academy Wrestler Senior Lilly Waite. She has been wrestling for four years, and was introduced to wrestling through Sara Barker. Her mom met Sara’s dad, started dating and the two girls became close, like sisters. Coach Barker, knew that Waite was interested in the tougher sports, played basketball and raced motorcycles. On the urging of Barker, Waite went to an Open Mats wrestling event, and loved it. Waite told me that wrestling has given her confidence and the ability to see herself in positive body image. For girls at this age, it is sometimes a taboo and sensitive subject. Waite said that she can now actually talk about her weight in a positive way as part of how she takes on the sport. Although her mother is concerned about potential injury or skin problems, she is supportive of Lilly wrestling. Losing her dad when she was nine, Waite told me that she knows that her Dad would love that she is wrestling. Some of her peers have made negative comments pretending to be “afraid” of her, but for the most part her friends support her 100%.
Her male teammates treat women on the team, as they would any other teammate. “We’ve earned the respect as wrestlers” Says Waite, guys sometimes are confused on how to wrestle a girl” she went on. “We are seen as delicate, but we can be tough!” “The sport of Wrestling is not sexualized” Waite added. I asked if she had ever encountered a match where someone refused to wrestle her. Waite told me “yes”, during her Sophomore year. The opponent had refused to wrestle Waite because he thought he might hurt her. Waite admitted that that she was angry about it at the time.
During this past summer, I visited with Moira Stettner, at her home in Springfield. I asked her why she decided to take up wrestling. She told me it was simply because the town didn’t offer Basketball that year. She tried it and loved it. I also asked her mom, Kelly Stettner about concerns she may have had when her daughter “Mo”, was wrestling in High School. I first encountered Mo when she practiced with the Bellows Falls-Hartford Coop Team. She competed as an independent in 2012. She wrestled on the Springfield team her Senior year. Stettner currently attends Norwich University.
Her Mom, Kelly told me that she was indeed concerned about potential injuries, after all the wrestlers she faced were bigger than they were in grade school, and she was also concerned about Mo’s tenacity, and that she might “bull her way through pain”. These concerns, in my opinion are no different than another other parent of a high school wrestler male or female. I can still remember the first time I went to watch my son wrestle, his first year. I still remember the name of the opponent. I thought to myself “I just hope he doesn’t get killed!” He didn’t. Those worries just faded away when I saw what kind of person he was developing into because of the sport.
Who knows, perhaps one of the strong women in Vermont High School Wrestling will become state champion. These phenomenal women exemplify the strength and confidence of the sport of wrestling, and serve as positive role models for girls everywhere, not just Vermont.