Maryland high school spots experienced a historic event on the wrestling mat at Northeast High School Feb. 3, when girls from across the state descended on the Anne Arundel County School to attend a high school wrestling tournament exclusively for girls, the first of its kind in Maryland.
Conversations about hosting an all-girls wrestling competition took place at the 2017 Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association's state tournament. Andy Warner, the president of the MPSSAA, mentioned the idea and a couple coaches, Northeast's Chris Dyke and Severna Park's Chad Vosburg, who both wanted to take it on as co-directors.
Fast-forward 11 months, and it's safe to say the event was a rousing success. Seventy-eight different girls competed across 16 weight classes, wrestling in at least three matches. The event drew a big crowd, a portion of which was comprised of the female wrestlers' male teammates.
"It is growing, as far as female participation in wrestling," Dyke said during the
Feb. 6 edition of High School Sportsline
. "The biggest thing is you'll mostly see one or two girls on any team. The numbers for the Maryland [Women's] National Team have gone up, too, so you see more girls wrestling year-round now, and I think that's helping fuel the regular high school season."
Northeast senior Lisa McChesney placed second in the 127-pound weight class with a 3-1 tournament record. McChesney began wrestling her sophomore year and has begun to thrive. She's a two-year starter for Northeast's team and competes for the Maryland Women's National Team, which is sponsored by USA Wrestling and the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
For McChesney, getting to compete in the first high school wrestling tournament for girls in Maryland's history is something she'll always be proud of.
"It was amazing being a part of it. We showed how many of us have started to wrestle, how many of us love it and want take it to the next level," McChesney said. "It is history, and it's something I'll forever be able to say that I was a part of."
It wasn't just a day of competition, as the wrestlers were treated to a clinic run by Monica Hovermale, who competed at Smithsburg High School in Washington County from 2007-2010, and is the first female wrestler in Maryland's history to reach 100 wins.
To Dyke, having local wrestlers to look up to like Hovermale, who competed at Lock Haven University, and Helen Maroulis, a Rockville, Md., native who became the first American woman to win a gold medal in wrestling during the 2016 Olympics, will be key to getting more participation in Maryland. In his eyes, having tangible examples of women from Maryland who have excelled beyond high school will only get more girls interested in the sport.
Though Hovermale spent plenty of time talking about moves to execute on the mat, the importance of talking up the sport to other girls was the overall focus.
"She pulled all the girls together as a group and it was really about motivating them to keep going, and trying to build participation," Dyke said.
As for the event itself, the MPSSAA is aiming to host the competition again next year. The big question will be how many girls will participate in wrestling next season, though there were encouraging signs this past weekend, as many of the weight classification winners were underclassmen.
There are still a few lingering obstacles, one of which is getting girls comfortable with wrestling boys. It's something McChesney said she struggled with initially, but no longer thinks about. She's confident any girl can get in that mindset, too.
Another roadblock is the perception that wrestling simply is not a sport for girls. McChesney said she's come across that mentality from plenty of people, but she's learned to use it as motivation.
"I block it out and just wrestle. It's just a sport; anyone can do it," McChesney said. "I think part of it could be jealousy because girls are making history by getting further involved in wrestling, and they can be great just like guys. Anything a guy can do a girl can do too, and vice versa."
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Photo credit: Brian Layman/Courtesy Photo