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Finding A Family Through Wrestling

Female Wrestlers Challenge Stereotypes

The+Jaybird+Memorial+Wrestling+Tournament+allowed+female+wrestlers+the+chance+to+compete+against+other+girls.+%0A
The Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament allowed female wrestlers the chance to compete against other girls.

The Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament allowed female wrestlers the chance to compete against other girls.

Photo Credit: Idaho Press Tribune

Photo Credit: Idaho Press Tribune

The Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament allowed female wrestlers the chance to compete against other girls.

Alex Swerdloff, Social Media Editor

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In many ways, the wrestling tournament on February 10th looked just like the many that had come before it. There was the familiar screech of the referee’s whistle, the smack of wrestlers hitting the mat, a tangle of limbs as competitors clashed. But when the dust settled on the mat and the wrestlers broke apart, one difference became clear: both wrestlers were girls.

Girls across Idaho have long been drawn to the sport of wrestling. Hallie Campbell, a Boise High sophomore, had been interested in the sport since she was a seventh grader. But a series of missed meetings and concerns that she would be the only girl on the team kept her from showing up to a practice until she began high school.

“This year I had a friend and he was like, ‘Hey, there’s spots on the wrestling team and I think you should totally do it,’” Campbell says. The presence of other girls on that first day also helped. “I didn’t realize there were two other girls on the wrestling team, and I was super happy with that,” she says.  

Despite the growing number of athletes like Campbell and her teammates, female wrestlers remain in the minority, and often find themselves competing against boys. “Me being the 106 wrestler, there’s not a lot of 106 pound girls,” says Campbell. “I’m usually [competing] against a 98 pounder or a 106 [pound guy].” Though Campbell welcomes any opportunity to compete, it can be difficult to wrestle competitors of the opposite gender, especially since boys tend to have more muscle than girls.

That’s why the February tournament was such a welcome opportunity. Named the Jaybird Memorial Tournament after a competitor’s late grandfather, the event was the first state-sanctioned all-female wrestling tournament in Idaho, and it drew wrestlers from across Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. 22 high schools competed in total, including Boise, Borah, Centennial, and Columbia (where the match was held). “It was fun to be able to actually wrestle against girls because you don’t really get that chance at a lot of tournaments,” says Campbell.

Seeing other girls wrestling provides inspiration and encouragement. Campbell recalled the experience of watching younger girls compete at a US Open Wrestling Tournament: “I saw like these tiny little girls that are only 46 pounds wrestling and I was like, that’s amazing! We usually don’t see that.”

Despite the occasional struggles that come with being one of the few girls in a male-dominated sport, in Campbell’s eyes the positives far outweigh the negatives. Wrestling has given her a sense of community and belonging. “Your team members are essentially like your brothers,” she says. “Everybody roots for each other and helps each other.”

She encourages other girls to seek out that community, too. “I’d say, definitely do it,” she says when asked about fellow Boise High girls who may be interested in wrestling. “Don’t hesitate. Yeah, there’s a ton of guys in there, but do it. The one intimidating thing is having to wrestle a guy, but once you do that, you get over it pretty quick.”

If more girls listen to her advice, there’s a good chance the Treasure Valley will see many more tournaments like the Jaybird Memorial, offering opportunities for athletes of all genders to find their own sense of belonging in wrestling.

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