Female wrestlers find place in male-dominated sport

Ellie Woodard, Reporter

Juniors Gia Blanks and Amaanyi Ramirez and senior Gigi Harrison are the first female wrestlers on the wrestling team in five years. Despite the difficulty of competing against athletes who are bigger and possibly more experienced, the girls are up for the challenge.

“I have no problem wrestling people bigger or smaller than me, but it can be pretty difficult wrestling someone bigger than you,” Ramirez said.

Harrison and Blanks are strong believers that looks don’t make the wrestler. Skill is the only thing that matters.

“You don’t decide who you’re wrestling,” Harrison said. “They put you on the mat because you’re in the same weight class. Sometimes you get people smaller than you. None of that matters when you’re on the mat.”

This means the expectations for every wrestler are the same.

“The mentality and the body of work they have to put in is the same,” Coach Curtis Gocke said. ”It’s just a different gender. But to us, when they’re in the room, they’re wrestlers. Not boys. Not girls. They’re wrestlers.”

Wrestlers don’t have to work with the opposite gender, if uncomfortable. Although it makes them feel like outsiders sometimes, the girls don’t take it personally. They stay to themselves in their trio.

“I don’t think they’re intentionally trying to put us out,” Harrison said. “They’ve never had a female wrestler at Bellevue West, so they don’t know how to treat us like one of the guys.”

It’s common for a male wrestler to refuse to wrestle against a female wrestler during a meet. The three unanimously agreed that it hurts to have to win by default rather than their skill, but also understand that there is nothing they can do about it.

“There’s always gonna be that one guy,” Blanks said. “I can’t get bitter over a personal opinion.”

The Omaha World-Herald reported that the votes for a girls wrestling division at an NSAA Representative Assembly missed by one vote. Activities director Jon Mauro said that West voted in favor of the change, in support for the girl’s division as its own separate, sanctioned sport.

“We would have teamed up with Bellevue East and create a Bellevue Team,” Mauro said. “Hopefully it would have grown and separated over time. Because if we have girls as a separate team, they can’t even practice with the boys.”

According to teamusa.org, wrestling has increased the most in growth of high school sports in the U.S. From the 2017- 2018 school year, the increase of students participating in girls wrestling was 27.5%. For the girls interested in wrestling, both Gocke and the female wrestlers encourage them to join.

“Do it,” Blanks said. “It gives you a sense of yourself and what you’re made of. There have been multiple times where I wanted to quit, but I came here for a reason. I feel like I’m part of a team.”

The female wrestlers said they are tired of other wrestlers going easy on them.

“When we’re on the mat, we are wrestlers,” Harrison said. “Your skill is against mine. If you’re scared, there’s nothing to be scared of. Well, there’s a little something to be scared of. But just do it.”