Girls Wrestling On The Rise In Oklahoma
TULSA, Oklahoma - A sport traditionally considered for guys is going to the girls.
Girl wrestlers are on the rise in Oklahoma, giving them confidence and college opportunities. Braided hair and a pink singlet are two things 7-year-old Remy Whitney's got to have when she hits the mat.
In the Whitney family, wrestling is life.
“When I win a match, then I get super excited and I jump up in the air,” said Remy.
Remy will start her second season as a wrestler this fall.
“She loves it,” said Remy’s dad and wrestling coach Chad Whitney.
She’s following in her father's footsteps.
“I want to be like my dad,” Remy said.
Her dad coaches Remy and the C4 Wrestling team now. But in the late 90s, he won three state championships for El Reno High School and went on to wrestle for Oklahoma State University.
Back then, it was considered a boys sport and there weren't many girl wrestlers.
“Now, it's just mainstream. You see girls all the time wrestling,” Chad said. “They're tough. They're flexible. They're almost more built for it from the start than boys are.”
The Oklahoma Kids Wrestling Association says 102 girls wrestled during its state tournament last year. That number grew by more 30 this year.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association says wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports across the nation for girls.
“It's just another avenue for girls to go get a scholarship and wrestle in college if they want to do that,” Chad said.
And inside one small Tulsa gym, the girl wrestling movement is growing even more. That’s where Oklahoma's only competitive girls wrestling team meets to practice. It started there 7 years ago with just one girl wrestler. Now there are 32.
“Wrestling is a lifestyle, not a sport to me,” said 15-year-old wrestler Kearanie Johnson.
Claremore freshman Kearanie Johnson is entering her 12th wrestling season.
“My dream is to go into the Olympics,” Johnson said.
She's moving toward her goal, one match at a time.
“I'm the only female wrestler to ever make it to high school state,” Johnson said.
At the high school level in Oklahoma, there's no girls division, which means the girls are pitted against the guys.
“It's hard to get girls into it, but I think it's gonna grow, for sure,” said 14-year-old wrestler Ashondra Valencia.
The OSSAA says 72 Oklahoma girls wrestled on their high school teams last season.
But that number would likely be much higher if there were a sanctioned high school girls division, something the association says it's in the early stages of planning.
“Girls need to know that this isn't just a guy thing,” Johnson said.
Seeing the younger ones, like Remy, take to the sport with such passion is a promising sign.
“I don't care who I wrestle. I just want it to be tough,” Remy said.
For now, some girls don't mind wrestling boys.
“Because it's more competition and gives you a tougher experience,” Johnson said.
They say the guys make them better and give them an edge when wrestling in their all-girl competitive league.
“It's the boys that [have] made me good, for sure. I don't get better wrestling girls my whole life ... It was the boys,” Valencia said.
These girls are proud to break the stereotype by using their mental strength, skill, and grit to show the world that wrestling is not just a boy's sport anymore.
“All you've got to do is set your mind to it,” Johnson said. “Girls can do anything a guy can do.”