By Earl Vaughan Jr.
If you have any doubts that the sport of female wrestling is growing at the high school level, just drop by practice at Jack Britt High School one day.
At last count, Buccaneer head coach Byron Sigmon had a dozen girls on his wrestling team, and it’s not by accident.
Sigmon said he actively recruits girls at Britt to become wrestlers.
“I tell all the girls in my classes to try it out,’’ he said. “If I see girls in the hallway that look like athletes, I tell them to come out if they’re not doing anything during the winter.’’
There are a lot of good reasons for girls to give the sport a try, Sigmon said. Chief among them is that colleges are opening their doors to female wrestlers.
Sigmon said Presbyterian in South Carolina became the first Division I school to add the sport, followed by Iowa as the first member of a Power 5 conference to field a team.
“A ton of NAIA, NCAA Division II and III schools have it,’’ he said. “It’s getting more and more popular.’’
Nearby Mount Olive in Wayne County recently announced it will be fielding a women’s team.
The next big step in North Carolina will be to get high school wrestling sanctioned as its own sport. For now, girls who go out for wrestling have to compete with boys.
Options for girls are growing, even though the sport isn’t sanctioned on its own yet. Sigmon said his team returned from a recent tournament that offered wrestling for varsity, junior varsity and girls. The N.C. High School Athletic Association has already been holding an invitational tournament for female wrestlers.
To get the sport sanctioned separately from the boys, at least 100 schools will have to field girls’ wrestling teams in the state.
Sigmon tries to match his girls head-to-head with each other in practice as much as possible, but when they are given no other option, he said they prefer to compete with boys rather than not wrestle.
The biggest problem for girls versus boys is that in some weight classes, the boys are naturally stronger.
But even with the challenge of wrestling stronger boys, the girls on Sigmon’s team say the benefits of the sport far outweigh any challenges.
Destinee Garcia and Gabrielle Rinaldi are seniors on this year’s Britt team, both out for the sport for the first time in their careers. Garcia said she regrets not going out for wrestling before her senior year.
“My grandpa used to wrestle in high school,’’ Garcia said. “He talked about how much fun the team was, just being part of the wrestling team.’’
One of the biggest pluses for Garcia and the rest of the female wrestlers is the sport offers training in self-defense, a point Sigmon sells when he is trying to get girls to compete.
“That kind of sparked me into wanting to do it,’’ Garcia said. “It keeps you in shape for sure.’’
Rinaldi said the sport is good for the body, both physically and mentally. “I believe it helps all over the place,’’ she said. “It helps you become a good person.’’
One thing Rinaldi really appreciates is the team aspect of the sport. “I’m meeting a new family of people,’’ she said. “I have people to go to if I have problems or need life support.’’