The seven girls on the Blair wrestling team
*Tweet* A short blow of a whistle and the match has begun. Unleashed, two wrestlers pounce at each other and begin a seemingly choreographed sequence of steps, lunging and stepping on the large red mat spanning the length of Blair's gym. One move and they're now both on the floor, battling it out to see who comes out on top. A mere minute later, a winner is decided. Hand raised in triumph, senior captain Marryam Funyas returns to the team of Blazers waiting around the mat. Today, Dec. 17, is a date for the history books, as girls take center stage for the first women's tri-meet in the history of Maryland.
Women's wrestling is one of the fastest-growing sports right now, and with it, the number of girls on Blair's wrestling team is expanding as well. Just last year, Funyas was only one of two girls on the team. Now, she is one of seven: Funyas, senior Chloe Farber, senior Jackalyn Heath, junior Mckinley Jovanovic, sophomore Charlotte Goldberg, sophomore Linh Hoang and sophomore Leila Morales.
While the girls all joined for different reasons, they all stayed because of one: the team environment.
In such a male-dominated sport, seven girls on a high-school wrestling team is an anomaly, and even rarer is the supportive and inclusive environment for all genders. "Wrestling can be a hostile environment if you don't have the right people. The coaching staff that we have, the captains that we have and the team that we have really make it such a happy place," Goldberg says.
Practices are filled with light banter, yet beneath lies a collective commitment and love for the sport. All 47 of this year's wrestlers are packed into the small, wood-tiled wrestling room two hours a day, six days a week, every week. From day one, they're there, supporting and encouraging each other.
Coaches Timothy Grover, Robert McMahon, Brain Dorsey, Brian Mccaw, Nuaman Funyas and Justin Rogers play a large role in creating this welcoming community, especially for the girls. "They were like, ‘Immediately come to us if there's a problem, if there's anyone who you feel uncomfortable practicing with, or if another girl feels uncomfortable,’ … It was pretty cut and clear that anything, whether it be a comment or physical, [would have] zero tolerance," Farber says.
As cliché as it is, Blair's wrestling team encompasses one word: family. Morales attributes the sense of community to the shared struggles that all wrestlers face. "We're all doing the same very challenging workouts together. We're struggling together. We're winning together," Morales says.
The team is judgment-free, a place where everyone feels comfortable and safe to work their hardest to get stronger and stronger. “Obviously at wrestling practice, you're not looking your best at all: your hair's a mess, you're sweating, you're like out of breath, [but] you don't feel judged," Morales says.
At every practice, the wrestlers are free to pair up with anyone they want, regardless of gender. For senior captain Habib Camara, nothing matters more than to learn and gain experience. "As long as you're getting good practice, it doesn't matter if you're a guy or girl as long as your partner is there for you and you're able to learn from it," Camara says.
Usually, however, girls end up partnering together because of their similar body weight and build. Another criterion for picking a partner during practice is their skill level. "Even when you're drilling or learning something new, you want to pair up with someone who will match your energy and your skill, so you're not like getting your butt whooped in a drill," Farber says.
Additionally, through the policies in place, the coaches find creative ways to bring the team closer together. Whenever one person misses or is late to practice, the entire team is subject to "exciting opportunities for cardio enhancement" (also known as "punishments"), which consists of one burpee per minute of lateness and strit matters (sets of knee crawls, bear crawls and sprints).
However, even with an encouraging team environment, gender can create a considerable divide when the number of girls dwindles. Last year, as the only two girls on the team, Jovanovic and Funyas existed in their own little bubble. "We got close really fast, but there is a little bit of [feeling like] you're by yourself. Because we're not in the locker rooms with the guys, [so] we're missing out on the team room jokes," Jovanovic says.
Now, with the addition of five more girls, they share their own locker-room jokes and support system. Funyas notices that having other girls on the team helps with morale and keeps girls from quitting. The bodies of women and men are different in terms of both strength and stature. Men are typically bigger and stronger, while women are usually more flexible. It can be frustrating being one of the only girls and trying to compete with the boys."Practice is extremely tough and if your cardio or your strength isn't up to par with the guys, it feels very unmotivating – having another [female] teammate really helps with that," Funyas says.
When wrestling, these differences amplify as a wrestler pours all their strength into the match. So certain technique variations are more effective against one gender versus another. At practices, after teaching a new technique to the team, Grover and McMahon often pull the girls aside to present an altered version that’ll work better with a female build.
The sweat and tears of practice push the wrestlers to improve, and through meets and competitions, the wrestlers see their hard work pay off. Throughout the winter sports season, the wrestling team competes at least once or twice a week.
However, with the increase of female wrestlers, the Blazers also compete at girl-specific meets. On Dec. 17, the Blazers competed against Winters Mill High School and Oakland Mills High School in Maryland's first-ever women's tri-meet going 30:48 and 18:30.
As the girls continue to make history and the wrestling season continues, be sure to come out and support them!
Update: On Jan. 27, Blair hosted the first-ever girls’ wrestling invitational tournament in the history of Montgomery County Athletics with over 100 girls wrestling.
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