Girls Pinning Boys: a History and Evolution of High School Wrestling
I wrestled in California all four years of high school from 2014-2018. I considered these to be the most productive years of my life so far because of the time and effort that I put into competing. Every day, every week, every month was a new challenge waiting to be conquered.
My teammates and opponents helped me to reach levels that I did not expect when I first walked into a wrestling room when I was eight years old. For the most part, I treasure these relationships to this day because each one, friend or foe, made me work hard. This was not always easy, but I persevered through the good and bad times. I can now look back at those years with great fondness.
I carry those experiences with me every day. The saying of “once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy” is very true in my case. Faced with trials and tribulations, I can use my experience as a wrestler as a foundation.
My junior year saw a transition from the co-ed wrestling team to a girls wrestling team at my school. Several of my earlier matches that I had in my freshman and sophomore years were against boys, however. I did not do very well in these matches, but I did have some success. Thankfully, all of my opponents in my high school career regardless of gender gave me respect as a competitor and focused on the wrestling match as just that, a wrestling match, and nothing more.
Looking back at the history of girls wrestling, I can see that the experience of other girl wrestlers was not always like this. Before the formation of girls wrestling teams, the only way for girls to compete was with the boys. Since 1985, when America Morris became the first girl to pin a boy in a varsity match, boys wrestling against girls has been treated differently. Decades later, in 2006, Michaela Hutchison was the first girl to win a state championship in Alaska. These events received a lot of attention and celebrated the girls because they beat all the odds.
Other girl wrestlers in the 2000’s and 2010’s, however, often encountered a lot of obstacles and stereotypes when their only real goal was to compete in the only environment they were allowed to compete in. Boys were not always as respectful as they are now, likely because the occurrences of girl vs boy wrestling matches have evolved from being ultra rare to common.
Matches from this era show a wide variety of results, some very positive and some very negative. In this example from my home state of California from the 2000’s, the boy’s frustration is evident for the entire match and he pushes his girl opponent likely out of hostility because he is unable to even get close to take a shot. Some may argue that he already knows his opponent is stronger and a better wrestler than he is, so he is only prolonging the inevitable. He will lose this match and there is no way to escape it.
In the boy’s home gym, however, there is a surprisingly large number of supporters for Rosey. Her family is filming the match and the number of cheers and shouts of support clearly demonstrate there are many in attendance who want to see her win. When the boy finally takes a shot and is quickly reversed, he may already know that he can’t escape what is about to happen to him. After briefly trying to avoid being pinned, he quickly gives up and simply lies there while the crowd cheers very loudly.
What drew my attention to this match was the reaction after the pin. The boy jumps to his feet and walks away as though he does not need to acknowledge the defeat. In his mind, either he was set up for failure or something happened that caused him to lose so easily that he cannot yet explain. So he walks off as though he is not even going to acknowledge Rosey’s victory.
Maybe he sees all of his teammates smiling and laughing from the bench or his coaches looking at him. Or maybe he hears the crowd in his home gym. Or maybe he realizes his family and friends are there, or at least they will all soon hear about it.
While this experience is deeply personal to the boy in this match, it has been repeated on wrestling mats across the country for decades. It’s no longer a one-in-a-million occurrence like it was in 1985. An increasing number of boys have lost to girls, and their reactions similar to this have been witnessed many times over. In this example, he is captured front and center.
He does return, albeit forcibly, and acts as though he is being forced to shake hands. If his opponent had been another boy wrestler, I can’t imagine a reason for him to act this way. He likely would have fought back to avoid the pin more, but also would have simply shook hands and quickly moved on from the defeat in a respectful way if this had been the case. That would have been easy. This match, though, turns out to be unforgettable.
I think he’s not ready to accept the reality of what just happened. He walks away, is forced to return, acts as though this shouldn’t be happening, weakly shakes his opponent’s hand, and then hesitates to acknowledge her team and coaches who are obviously celebrating wildly with great joy in her victory.
This was a common occurrence in matches of this period, which happened over a decade ago. The girl, who practiced and worked hard to even get to this match, is treated as though it wasn’t really a fair wrestling match to begin with. Her opponent is frustrated and hostile, and he ends up paying the price for it. Her victory is definitely something to be savored, but the behavior of her opponent does nothing but distract from that.
I think matches like this should be celebrated even in retrospect because of the obstacles that wrestlers like Rosey had to go through to be treated as equal wrestlers. The fact that the match is filmed so it can be preserved forever and shared on the Internet helps us to recognize these accomplishments that would otherwise be forgotten. We’re lucky in this case.
Rosey should look back at this match and be very happy with her accomplishment, even today. She, like me, can continue to use her foundation as a wrestler to meet the challenges of everyday life long after she has graduated. She persevered, like many other girl wrestlers who came before her and will come after her. She won very convincingly in the match, but also in life.
Her opponent would not willingly look back at this match at all, but he’ll probably be reminded of it. He might treat it with the same indifference that he did at the time, or he may find that it’s not something he can ever brush off and stay mad. It is a constant reminder of losing to a better wrestler, a girl wrestler, and how she should have been treated differently. The match is on video, shared around the world on the Internet, and copied in several places. It will exist forever as a great example to others of how to handle a loss differently.
I am eternally grateful to the girl wrestlers who paved the way for those like me. Without their breakthroughs in the 2000’s and 2010’s to make girl vs boy wrestling more common and accepted, we would not have as many girl wrestlers today. And, since all of us can use the lessons we learn on the mat throughout our lives, many more girls are far better off today as a result.
Girls and boys alike, if they choose this great sport of wrestling, should act respectful both in victory and defeat. There is no place on the wrestling mat for disrespect or immaturity. When defeated, wrestlers should accept it gracefully regardless of gender and motivate themselves to overcome the defeat by working harder.
Those who can do this will be able to reflect on the challenges and success they had as wrestlers throughout the rest of their lives. It’s an invaluable characteristic that cannot be vanquished. Those who cannot do this will not be better off because they will never be able to grow and move past their defeat.
Congratulations to Rosey and every girl who steps on the mat to prove that they belong.
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