For possibly the first time in Beatrice High School history, three female athletes have taken to the mat and joined the school’s wrestling team.
Junior Raquel Moore and sophomores Autumn Bartlett and Jordyn Kleveland, along with more than 20,000 other girls across the country are participating in high school wrestling this year.
Moore said she competed in a wrestling team when she was younger, and also participates in trap shooting, so she’s used to playing in male-dominated sports. She said her goal this season is to get as many wins as possible and learn as much as she can.
“I wrestled a really long time ago, so I’m just getting back into everything, getting freshened up,” Moore explained. “The environment of actually being out there on a match is pretty different from being in practice, so just kind of getting used to that. And overall, just being comfortable.”
Bartlett said she grew up play wrestling at home, and that her mother suggested she try out for the team. She said she hopes to be a role model for younger girls who want to try doing something different.
“Raquel and I have improved a lot, just over the few months that we’ve been in it,” Bartlett said. “The coaches keep telling us that we’re doing better than some of the freshman boys that have been doing it for a while.”
According to the Nebraska School Activities Association, girls participation in the sport grew by more than 27.5% between 2018 and 2019, and 85 colleges now offer a girls wrestling division.
BHS head wrestling Coach Jordan Johnson said it’s a tough sport where students learn a lot about themselves, and he’s excited to see and help the girl’s team grow.
“It’s just another opportunity for young ladies to compete and maybe get a scholarship, and use that money to go to college and such,” Johnson said. “So I just think it’s a good opportunity for them.”
Johnson said he and the other coaches have had girls participate in wrestling at the kid’s level, but that these three ladies are the first to participate at BHS for at least 15 years.
This year, Nebraska voted that girls wrestling have emerging sport status, which means that it is recognized by the NCAA and is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women, more sport-sponsorship options for the institutions, and also help that sport achieve NCAA championship status.
To receive NCAA championship status, there must be at least 40 NCAA-affiliated varsity women’s wrestling teams. Once women’s wrestling achieves championship status, they will likely not compete against the men’s teams.
“When it comes state tournament time, girl’s state is at the end of January,” Johnson explained. “If they want to wrestle at girl’s state, they can. If they want to wrestle at boy’s state, and are good enough, they can.”
Bartlett said she’s had one opportunity to compete so far, against a 2-0 varsity boy, but chose not to take it because she got nervous.
Moore said she’s had a few matches, receiving more points but failing to pin a 0-2 Fairbury girl. She called all of her matches learning experiences.
“Overall, I just think it’s important that this year we’re finally getting that inclusivity,” Moore said. “It’s not so uncommon now for girls to be wrestlers. Schuyler has 15 female wrestlers this year. So definitely just getting everybody involved and normalizing girls being in this.”
Bartlett said wrestling is not a one-on-one sport but a team sport, as everyone is expected to listen to their coaches and teammates when they’re on the mat.
Moore noted that it took some time for the boy’s team to adjust to having girl members.
“Now I feel like we’re definitely becoming part of the team, becoming ‘one of the guys,’” Moore said. “So if anybody is interested in doing it at any level, just be prepared that it might be a little uncomfortable at first, but just stick with it and allow the guys to familiarize you with it, just as you familiarize yourself within the male environment…Everybody is definitely vouching for each other, and we can definitely appreciate getting that support from everyone.”