Against boys, she relies on her balance and technique. "I'm not as strong as most of the guys at my weight, so I've got to work for my moves and technique," she said. While about one-third of her opponents forfeit rather than compete against a girl, Shoni Plagmann is just another wrestler to her coaches and teammates. That's the way she prefers it. "I never think of it as a girl-guy thing. I just go out and wrestle. The forfeits are kind of discouraging, but I can see where they're coming from, how they don't want to lose to a girl or get beat up by a girl. I set my mind to it that if I'm going to do a guys' sport, I'm going to try for the top."
She should be cooking for those boys instead of wrestling them
Sara McMann used to beating men. She began her wrestling career at McDowell High School in Marion, North Carolina. Despite having to deal with the conservative ideals of the South, the snickering at meets, and one woman in the stands actually saying: "She should be cooking for those boys instead of wrestling them," McMann let her deep love for the sport drive her forward. She defeated a man for the first time in her freshman year at an open tournament. The boy was also in his first year of the sport, and was deeply upset by the loss. "I just went over and told him that he did good," she said. "I know how bad first-year wrestlers get it in the first place, and losing to a girl would just make it a lot worse. That's the type of thing that can make a kid quit, and I just hoped he'd learn from it and realize that losing is part of wrestling."
"I don't go out there trying to prove that women can wrestle," she said. "There was never a doubt in my mind about that. If no women ever wrestled after me, it wouldn't matter to me. I just do it because it's what I love to do."
The first time she ever competed, a shortsighted referee told Elaine Blessen that wrestling wasn't a sport for girls. When the first boy she wrestled against in practice last year threatened to quit the team at Columbus Lakeview, she volunteered to quit instead. "I felt bad having a guy quit a guy's sport," she said. "I didn't want to feel responsible knowing that he quit because of me."
Even Elaine's mother is compassionate toward those who chose to heckle her daughter during matches. "I just put myself in those parents' place," she said. "If my son got beat by a girl, I would be offended, too. That's the way a lot of parents are."
Boys who must wrestle girls become more gentlemanly on the mat
The 114-pounder for the Northeast High School wrestling team brushes her chestnut hair into a ponytail and concentrates on the word "aggression."
Alix Lauer, 17, is not like the other members of the Northeast team. She wears a little more jewelry, for starters. And she is the only one on the varsity who shaves her legs. The biggest difference, though, is that no one else wrestles in her weight class and even no one is a girl.
"I'm really proud of her now. But I had a lot of reservations at the start," says her mother, Elaine Lauer, a 50-year-old preschool teacher. "I was concerned about the injuries. I was concerned about the male-female roles."
Alix wore them down incrementally.
"First I told them I was only going to wrestle the other girl who was there," Alix says. "Then I told them the coach was changing my weight class, so I had to wrestle a boy. Then I told them the matches were mandatory."
Her teammates figured she'd quit like the other girls, but she lasted the entire season. She came back this year and stuck with, it even though she lost her spot as the 103-pounder to a freshman. She moved up a weight class, even though it has meant that her opponents routinely have a 10-pound advantage. "The guys are so much stronger," Alix says, "but I try not to think about that. It's like running. I say to myself, What's stopping me from putting this leg in front of the other? Nothing."
Alix's opponent from Pinellas Park happens to be one of the team captains, a senior named Daniel Lee. Often, boys who must wrestle girls become more gentlemanly on the mat than might otherwise be expected. "It's almost comical," the coach, says. "They have to run a hand through the crotch and they get a little hesitant."
Daniel avoids this problem by slapping Alix's head down underneath his right arm, levering her body with his left arm and neatly flipping her onto her back. Alix struggles to bridge her neck to keep her shoulders off the mat. After 24 seconds she succumbs.
Elaine grimaces briefly, seeing Alix walk off nearly in tears. The takedown hurt Alix's neck, and it shows on her face. "I was in too much pain to fight out of it," Alix says later.
Wrestler Heather Martin said she has no problem wrestling against boys. But there are some issues that are hard to get around. "I don't like to put a guy on the spot," Martin said. "Boys are taught not to touch girls, then you have to go out [in a wrestling match] and beat up on her. I don't like to force guys to wrestle, but right now, you have to deal with what you've got."
Wrestler Chris Burrer said some boys would rather forfeit a match than wrestle against a girl. The issue of improper touching can be a difficult one to deal with. "I just try to think that it's like any other match," he said. "You have to go out and wrestle like it's a guy or you'll get in trouble. When you're in a match, you don't think about it. But after the match, you think, Wow, what was I thinking?"
Trainer Kip Flanik said none of those issues would be a problem if girls had their own wrestling teams. "It's a no-win situation for the guys," Flanik said. "I don't think having girls wrestling guys is good for either side of the sport. We're a little behind some other countries in that respect. It was a real eye-opener to go up to Canada, where they have a girls team for every boys team in high school and in college."
It's unusual enough for a woman to become a wrestler, but even more so for Afsoon Johnston, who grew up in Iran. She had to try out for the boys' team because there was no girls' team. She made the cut. The hardest part of being on the team, Johnston said, was earning the respect of her male teammates. They did not know what to make of her, she said. But after training with her for several months, they knew she had a real love of the sport.
Sometimes, Johnston said, boys from opposing teams did not want to wrestle her. "One guy said he didn't want to wrestle me because if he won then he beat a girl, but if he lost he couldn't show his face around school," she said. "I told him gender has nothing to do with it. I told him if I win it's because I trained harder and am the better wrestler - but he still didn't want to wrestle me."
Most of the teasing comes from other girls who are not interested in wrestling
Kimberly Davidson, a Vero Beach High School student at the time, competed against a Melbourne boy in the same weight division. She appeared to pin her opponent and waited for the official to end the match. The official never made the call, giving Davidson's opponent enough time to make an escape and eventually win the match on points. The pain of the loss didn't even compare to the irritation Davidson felt when the official spoke to her afterward. "I don't really like girls wrestling against boys," said Vero Beach wrestling coach Wayne Ivey, whose daughter also wrestles. "There are a lot of boys in this wrestling room that Kimberly could beat. It's just a sport this physical, I don't want it to be a boys vs. girls type of thing."
Although some might see them as invading the boys' natural turf, the girls say they've gotten along well with the male wrestlers they often compete with in practice. Davidson said the boys only showed any anger or hurt feelings when she beat them, and that it typically ended once they won a rematch.
The female wrestlers actually say most of the teasing comes from other girls who aren't interested in wrestling. Stephanie Harper said that she got teased a lot from her friends who didn't understand why she wanted to wrestle. "They were like Little Miss Priss is going to be a wrestler. But then some of them watched me and it changed their attitudes."
Most of the female wrestlers still square off against boys during practices or in the occasional tournament, but they prefer to battle other girls. It's not because they feel uncomfortable competing boys in a sport that has so much physical contact. The reason they'd rather wrestle other girls is much simpler than that. "I like wrestling girls better because it's easier to win", - Harper said. And if they pin their female opponent, they at least know the official will probably make the right call.
When I go out and wrestle girls, I manhandle them all
She has spent the past two seasons wrestling some of the most skilled and seasoned wrestlers in Pasco County. The upside to being put on her backside by bigger, stronger, more experienced boys, according to Dana Kearney, is that when she wrestles within her gender, when she takes on another girl, well, it's just not nearly the same thing. Which is bad news for her female opponent. "I feel a lot stronger," she said. "Girls wrestling with the boys have a lot more endurance, they're real strong and a lot more experienced than the rest of the girls. When I go out and wrestle girls, I manhandle them all."
Her negative energy and aggression funnel into wrestling
Meet 16-year-old Laura Felix. She's gone from being a high school discipline problem to the kind of student teachers point to when they want to motivate other kids having a hard time finding their stride in school. "I would have bombed out of school if not for wrestling," she said on her way to practice. "I'd probably be in jail by now." Tough words from a tough, little girl. Just ask her coach and the boys she wrestles in the 103-pound weight class division. The joke in the locker room is that an awful lot of boys come up sick or injured on the day they're supposed to be wrestling Felix. "In my league, I think a lot of the boys are scared to wrestle me," Laura said, smiling. She's not cocky, just confident. Her winning record allows that. "Sometimes they don't show up or they'll complain about having to wrestle a girl. But that all changes when I wrestle the boys in bigger schools. They kill me. They don't cut me any slack for being a girl."
She hadn't lost a fight all year. "Laura needed to have all that negative energy and aggression funneled into something positive, and that turned out to be wrestling," said her coach Falk, who added that she was immediately accepted and popular with her male teammates.
Now, she's inside this gym pinning the boys, and sporting a 25-6 winning record. Not bad for a girl!
What conclusions might be made from the above information? In fact, the number of female free-style wrestlers in USA (and other countries) is still too little to make it easy completing a wrestling team or a group in one weight class. So, it's almost inevitable to incorporate girls in boys' teams and participation of girls in mixed contests. Now, let's consider problems.
The first factor is a psychological and biological barrier for a male to wrestle a female in all one is worth, with a real chance of inflicting injury in addition.
The second factor is "no-win situation for guys" (as a trainer said). Actually, if you lose to a girl, everyone will despise you (and girls first of all); if you win they will begin to deride you, and you barely will have any satisfaction by the victory even by pin. This factor always comes to mind first and it's widely discussed because it's related to surrounding reaction which teenagers are very sensitive to.
Practically, these two factors are typical for any form of combative activities by the same token (and to non-combative competitions as well). In fact, it's less probable to inflict an injury in free-style wrestling than in boxing for instance. But the third factor related to mix competitions is the most typical for free-style wrestling: this form of contest includes tight body contacts, holds and touches of different parts of a body. "They have to run a hand through the crotch and they get a little hesitant", - a wrestling trainer said. As a matter of fact, the biggest age group of free-style wrestlers is teenagers whose sexual system is just being formed and who are the most excitable and unstable to sexual irritants. That's why it's difficult to agree with the young Iranian wrestler who said: "I told him gender has nothing to do with it. I told him if I win it's because I trained harder and am the better wrestler - but he still didn't want to wrestle me."
And, finally, quite typical for America circumstance - fear of lawsuits. If something serious happens with a girl on the mat, it might be considered as violence, abuse, inflicting serious injuries to a woman. And there are such laws in America. Let's imagine an interpretation of the above Bill Duryea's story represented to jurors being very far from wrestling: "The guy violently grabbed the girl with all his strength, overthrew her down against the floor, pinned her heavily to the ground by his body, hardly clutched her neck and was holding her in that motionless position for a while not paying attention to her desperate resistance and beating until she becomes motionless and he was ordered to release her. As a result, in addition to the psychological damage, the girl got hurt her neck. And the guy was even awarded for that and this outrage turned out to be organized by the school officials". Fine kettle of fish! :-)
However, Mako Furukawa, the issuer of the respectful site "Amateur wrestling" has a different opinion: "Boys at the junior-high school and high school age think of girls, and they think sex. Also, parents may be concerned about sexual lawsuits. My opinion to that it this. When you're out there on the mat, you need to concentrate on wrestling. Amateur wrestling is not a sexual sport. It's a competition. Girls who wrestle will realize that accidental touching happens, so as long as the boys are concentrating on wrestling there shouldn't be a problem... The sex should have nothing to do with it. If it did, wouldn't guys wrestling guys would be considered gay"?
As you can see, opinions of free-style wrestling organizers, girls, boys and their parents may be different. Furukawa's opinion is a corporate opinion because negation of mix gender wrestling competitions would subvert girls participation in the sport that will become Olympic soon.
But on my opinion, it's impossible to imagine that so serious negative factors may be ignored and that girl-boy wrestling competitions (as well as competitions in other sports) one day will become ordinary events and opponent's genders will no longer matter. If it happens, the male sport would be subverted in turn because of losing the most of male athletes who feel uncomfortable wrestling with females.
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