#WrestleLikeAGirl: breaking boundaries and winning medals
February 1, 2019
This wrestling season, #WrestleLikeAGirl has trended across Missouri. Girls have turned out in record numbers for the sport, more than doubling the number that the Missouri State High School Activities Association predicted would join. Now, their season is coming to a finish, with district tournaments this weekend, creating a road to the state tournament Feb. 14-16. Training alongside the boys from November through February, here are the stories of West’s first two female wrestlers in school history.
Sophomore Emma Carter pins down success
“Being a girl in this boy’s sport, there [are] so many things you have to do. People are constantly watching what you’re doing to try and protect themselves; people in this sport are so sexist, it’s insane,” Carter said. “I know you’re thinking, ‘oh, they’re wrestlers, why would they care?’ But men want to keep their masculinity, so it’s tough. And then they’re teenagers, so they have their own inner battles, so they think ‘I don’t want to lose to a girl, how will this person look at me and how will that person look at me? I’ll be a laughing stock.’”
Then, Carter’s matter-of-fact tone becomes blended with melancholy.
“I’ve had some pretty hurtful things said to me as well. I remember we were at Ladue and this guy, we went hand in hand and he beat me, and he said, ‘you only lost because you were a girl.’ That really got to me,” Carter said.
She pauses, reflecting on her rise from the receiving end of diminutive treatment to being a trailblazer for the next generation of female wrestlers.
“How do they respond when they lose to a girl?”
Carter does not hesitate now, her answer is blunt. This is not the first time she has been asked this question.
“How would you respond if you lost to anybody?”
“Does it matter if you’ve lost to a girl or a boy?”
Carter is short-spoken. Determined to establish herself as a leading presence in the inaugural season of officially-sanctioned Missouri girls’ wrestling, Carter strives to no longer be seen as a female wrestler, but simply a wrestler—and a serious contender going into the district tournament Feb. 1-2.
“Fingers crossed, knock on wood that I make it to [the] state [competition] because that’s all I really want,” Carter said.
Currently ranked fourth in Missouri in the 167-pound weight class, Carter has her sights set high, and she has the hardware to back it up with third place medals at both the Mehlville Women’s Invitational and Lafayette’s Fred Ross Invitational.
“If I really want to do this, [I can’t have] breaks. Last year I think I lacked determination, definitely determination. I had a lot of other things on my mind, but I’m figuring out high school more and more; it’s becoming more transparent; I can figure out things in my life,” Carter said. “School, grades, friendships, all that drama; I’m not going to let that fog my mind up.”
Some of her biggest motivating factors are the girls she mentors and works with through Junior Patriots wrestling. Carter was first brought into the sport through Junior Patriots by middle school physical education teacher Drew Lilledahl, and now she volunteers her time helping the next generation of wrestlers.
“There’s this little girl, she got into wrestling [in the first year she could join], sixth grade. She came, and she wrestled and I taught her some stuff, and she was like, ‘I really look up to you because of this’ and she was the only girl on that middle school team,” Carter said. “And I’m sure she was scared to come, but when she saw me as another girl, she was like, ‘wow, I can do this if she can.’”
“I try to be [a role model], I really do, because nothing makes me happier than seeing girls in a sport that’s full of boys, and then beating the guys,” Carter said.
She pauses once more, collecting her thoughts and returning her focus to the opportunity of the girls state championship lying just ahead of her, to the district tournament tonight and all the discouragement she overcame to get here.
“There are people that told me that I went too hard [last season], and I need to slow down because there’s nothing for me,” Carter said. “But the way I see it, there’s always room for progress, and progress is what kept me going. When I found out I made fourth in state—oh my god. I knew I was good but that just confirmed it and that just gave me more to go off of; it’s huge.”
Freshman Paige Wehrmeister finds her strength in wrestling
Freshman Paige Wehrmeister had not always seen herself as a strong person—then she started wrestling. Joining sophomore Emma Carter as one of two female wrestlers in Parkway, Wehrmeister has already carved out a reputation for herself: the girl who smiles every time she steps onto the mat.
“How did you feel when you first started?”
“I have always put everything out on the mat but I was very scared of being aggressive at first because I’m not a naturally aggressive person. It was really hard for me to be aggressive out on the mat,” Wehrmeister said. “I’ve learned that my aggressive isn’t really an angry aggressive, it’s more of a happy aggressive.”
Wrestling on the varsity lineup at 120 pounds, Wehrmeister has an 8-8 record between her matches against both boys and girls. With seven of her eight wins being pins, holding her opponent’s shoulder blades to the mat for two full seconds, Wehrmeister is quickly learning the skills it takes to succeed against a diverse range of opponents. She credits most of this growth to her coaches and the opposing boys she has faced.
“It’s sort of fun to wrestle [boys] because I feel like it’s a growing experience every time,” Wehrmeister said. “I feel like I can do a lot of things better and react to more things, because a lot of varsity boys have a lot more experience [than I do].”
“How is wrestling girls different than boys?”
“It’s so much more exhausting than wrestling guys,” Wehrmeister said. “They’re so much more speedy and quick and it’s really hard to sometimes keep up with other girls. It’s very exhausting, but I really like wrestling other girls because it feels like I’m equal on the physical level: guys have a lot more muscle but girls are flexible and fast.”
Wehrmeister laughs and collects her thoughts, reflecting on the broad range of experiences she has had this season, from her very first match four weeks into the season to placing fifth at the Mehlville Women’s Invitational Dec. 21.
“Wrestling is everybody’s sport, and everybody can wrestle in their own way—there’s not one way to wrestle. Everybody has their own style and technique,” Wehrmeister said. “I’ve found my own technique to wrestling; I don’t have to be super strong to do something and I know that mentally I can push through anything.”
Wehrmeister’s “happy aggression” defines her wrestling style, in her eyes: quick, energetic and persistent. She continues to develop it by treating every match as a learning experience and frequently asking her teammates to try different moves on her so that she can practice reacting.
At girls matches I saw a lot of different girls with different bodies, and everyone was all great with their bodies so I was like, ‘I’m good with mine too.’”
— Paige Wehrmeister
“How has the separate girls division influenced how you see the sport?”
“Girls and guys are so different in wrestling styles and body types. I feel like because I’ve been able to wrestle boys and definitely girls, I’ve been able to learn different styles of wrestling. It’s really helped me a lot because it helps me understand how my body works,” Wehrmeister said.
Seeing the representation of different body types in both girls and boys, all weighing the same as her, has helped Wehrmeister increase her self-confidence and self-image. At the start of the season, she was unsure of her body’s abilities—now, she savors every opportunity to go out on the mat and show what she is capable of.
“How do you stay happy, even when you lose?”
“I know that everybody out there does their best, so everyone really deserves a smile out on that mat,” Wehrmeister said. “Sometimes in my head I get down on myself because of losing, but I just remind myself that it’s my first year, and I can always do better, and I have time to work on everything.”
“I’ve found a sport that I really enjoy and that just makes me happy, so I want to be happy everywhere else too.”