NORTH AUGUSTA, SC -- More and more we are seeing young ladies take to the high school wrestling mats and beyond. The GHSA has already recognized it and has a stand alone tournament to cap off their season. In South Carolina, it could be on the way.
"Female wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the country. And so, there's no reason the girls can't wrestle right along with the boys," said North Augusta head coach Matt Franklin.
Four years ago, North Augusta began its wrestling program with a clear goal: get girls on the mat. The program has accomplished that with five girls currently on the team and full support from the boys.
"The boys love having the girls, the girls love being on the team. It's not a male/female thing, they're wrestlers. They're out here to wrestle, wrestle them hard," added Franklin.
While North Augusta has embraced having girls, it's still a taboo concept for other programs and parents. For some parents, it's hard to imagine seeing their daughters battling boys without thinking they'll get hurt. The old "you play like a girl" playground inslult is also in play.
"There will be one or 2 boys that if I take them down they'll be like, 'C'mon, she's a girl.' And it really irritates me. Yes I'm a girl, but I'm also a wrestler," said sophomore wrestler Sara Nunez.
There are district-by-district rules in South Caorlina about boys wrestling girls and some don't allow it. But these girls don't care. They just want to compete.
"I think it should be equal, head-to-head. We're the same weight. It doesn't really matter if you're male or female. We're both here just to play the sport," said freshman Emily Howard.
The North Augusta girls have fallen in love with their new sport and hope others will begin to join the community. It's one of the most dedicated communities for a sport that requires one of the more intense commitments to details. Wrestlers will get creative when it comes to maintaining their weight and perfecting their moves. That dedication turns into passion and it's one the girls hope they can share with other girls in the future.
"As a sport, it's really supportive and people are great so I would love to see it grow," said Howard.
"It's just I don't want to leave this sport. It's too amazing to leave," added Nunez.
More and more college programs are adding women's wrestling and offering scholarships, or may offer it as a club sport so the girls can continue honing their craft. The jackets have 2 girls wrestling in college now: Acoya pate and taylor cooks. Pate was good enough to earn a scholarship at limestone to keep her career going. Both howard and nunez are underclassmen and still have time to hone their craft.
Because girls wrestling is not yet recognized by the SCHSL, there is no official state championship. The Carolina Invitational in Lexington serves a proxy state championship. The tournament takes place on January 25th and can also open doors to national competitions.