Wrestling program provides opportunity for students as co-ed sport

Hadyn Nuttall, Staff Reporter

For some students, this may come as a surprise– the wrestling team at the school is actually co-ed. Both boys and girls are welcomed and encouraged to be a part of this no-cut sport. 

Wrestling is growing, especially for girls. Each year more girls compete across the state of Illinois and across the nation. According to the Team USA Wrestling website, there were more than 20,000 girls competing at the high school level nationwide in 2019.

“If anyone, male or female, is thinking about wrestling, I encourage them to come try for a day,” Head Wrestling Coach Craig Stocker said. “We are a no-cut sport, and if you decide you don’t like it, then you don’t have to come back. The worst thing they can do is never try.” 

Freshman Clarissa Santos joined the team this year after wrestling in middle school. 

“It’s a fun experience; you’re treated equally the same, and everybody is welcoming and very friendly,” Santos said. “It’s a good way to make new friends.”

Stocker said he is glad to have Santos on the team and is looking for more girls to join. The ultimate goal is to have enough girls wrestling that they can have their own team as is done for many other sports at the school.

Stocker added he likes the unique opportunity wrestling presents since individual body type is not a limiting factor given the weight classes in the sport. As a result, he said he hopes girls join “for the same reasons as the boys. There is no other sport in school like wrestling.”

Junior David DeGrazia has been wrestling since his freshman year and noted how wrestling has taught him the “value of pushing [one’s] limits.”

“Wrestling is extremely challenging, and you really have to push yourself to succeed in the sport,” he said. “The sport has taught me that it’s okay to push the limits of your physical and mental strength.”

Coach Stocker recognizes that some girls may have concerns specific to wrestling, including worries about wearing the traditional spandex singlet. 

He said, “Our one piece spandex uniform that most people associate with wrestling is no longer mandatory. We also offer a t-shirt and shorts combo that most girls and younger guys prefer.”

Another potential concern– wrestling is often perceived as being rougher than other sports that necessitates a level of physical involvement that some people may not be used to. It challenges athletes to fight it out and win up close, and some girls may worry about the sport’s more violent nature.

Stocker knows that wrestling presents challenges, and it’s not for everyone, but he said, “When your fight or flight response kicks in, we want the ones that don’t run away. I know there are a lot of girls in our building that feel that way, so this is a great place for them.”

In fact, physicality may be what often attracts people to the sport. The way wrestling demands athletes to give their all physically and mentally to overpower their opponent can be exciting.

Santos said that she was initially drawn to wrestling because it is so action-packed.

DeGrazia was also attracted to wrestling by the combative nature of the sport and added he loves the individual aspect of competition. 

“In the end, you are competing against yourself,” he said. “I like the idea of working to improve individually.”

There may be those who believe that girls don’t have what it takes individually to wrestle and that they should leave it to the boys, but Stocker countered that idea with this point.

“Those that watched the Olympics this past summer saw four different U.S.A. women win Olympic medals, and we know those girls can wrestle,” he said.

Though girls at MHS are not competing in the Olympics, they do have options to compete during the wrestling season, and the MHS coaches are invested in getting every girl the same number of matches as the boys.

“[Girls] have the ability to wrestle in girls-only competitions as well as the boys invites,” Stocker said. “Right now there are not a lot of girls-only events, but schools all over the state are working on changing that.”

Not only does wrestling teach physical skills, wrestling is another opportunity for students to learn important values, such as determination, persistence and focus.

“If you can stay strong and really try, you will see results,” DeGrazia said. “It’s worth it in the end. Overcoming challenges is part of this sport, and for me, it’s really helped when I’ve needed motivation in tough situations.”

The most valuable lesson Santos has learned from her wrestling experience so far is this: “I need to keep trying and working harder. I know I have to work harder, and if I don’t try, I’m not going to get better or benefit from anything.”