News page

OF 2000-2001


Girls' wrestling gaining respect

Carol Phillips 2/24/2001

Krista Hoover would be described as a petite blonde with a big smile, slight tan and blue mascara framing her large eyes.

But she's also a wrestler from Hagersville Secondary School, slated to represent SOSSA at the upcoming provincial high school championships in Guelph in the 44-kilogram weight class.
She realizes she may be atypical -- but, then again, maybe not.

"You kind of do feel weird because some girls do come out and they're the big, athletic type and you feel they look down on you and you want to show them: 'I can do well too. I'm not just about looking good for the guys.' And I feel sometimes that might be their impression."

The 15-year-old took up the sport four months ago for overall fitness and to help with her competitive figure skating.

"It was something totally different than what anyone else was doing," said Hoover, who also competes in ultimate frisbee, swimming and soccer. "They offered it in gym class and I enjoyed it."

Hoover was part of a three-girl Hagersville team at the SOSSA championships, and she won both her exhibition matches (there was no official competition in her weight class because she was the only one entered). Some 30 girls in 11 weight classes competed in Dunnville for the right to continue to the OFSAA championships.

All your typical high school girls.

Get with the program, girls wrestling is now exiting the eyebrow-raising world of fringe sport. The mud wrestling jokes are no longer ignorant and offensive as much as they are old news -- irrelevant.

Girls' wrestling has been officially sanctioned by the OFSAA committee this year. Since 1992, organizers have held a "festival" in conjunction with the boys' OFSAA competition and the numbers participating have continually grown, even in the face of labour disruptions. In 1993, 56 girls competed, then there were 112, then 150. Now, there are more than 200 expected at OFSAA. (Still not enough, however, that they don't have to spar with the boys in practice.)

For eight years, the girls' bouts have been squeezed in between the boys' competition, and Ontario Amateur Wrestling always donated the high school championship medals. But this year, they get the proper OFSAA hardware and their semis and finals will be highlighted along with the boys. And there will be an overall team championship combining a school's points from both the boys' and girls' competition.

Bill Smith, St. Catharines Lakeport coach, said he met with resistance from females on the OFSAA girls' committee when he first requested a girls' wrestling festival. He said they felt the coaching during bouts (a lot of yelling and screaming) was a bit much. And some wrestling coaches were reluctant to accept girls -- until they saw how well the athletes were competing and how much they were improving year over year.

The secret, according to coaches: girls are better listeners. And that's important in a sport that depends so much on technique.

While Hoover is an example of the growth in the sport, the veteran on her team is a pioneer of sorts. Heather Laidlaw, 17, began wrestling at the club level in grade 5 when her brother took up the sport. When she got to high school, she was the first -- and only -- female wrestler on the team.

"It didn't really bother me," said Laidlaw, who will compete at OFSAA in the 84 kg-plus class. "I liked it because I wanted to wrestle."

Laidlaw, who shrugs off any suggestion of difficulty clearing the path in a male-dominated sport, is a two-time OFSAA champion and has finished third, fourth and fifth at the national level over the years. And she has seen a change in attitude.

"It used to be any guy you wrestled with, they'd make fun of him if he lost. But now, they just don't care."

One of the top wrestling programs in the province, boys and girls, is at Beamsville District Secondary School. Coach Dave Collie's program for girls began about 10 years ago and can boast four female graduates that are scheduled to compete in the upcoming CIAU championships, including defending champ Tonya Verbeek.

The latest Beamsville standout is 19-year-old Candace Vanderwiel, whom Collie persuaded to join his team when he spotted her at a grade 8 mini-tournament.

His sales pitch, according to Vanderwiel: "If you wrestle, I'll take you across Canada."

Vanderwiel also trains at the Niagara Olympic Wrestling Club and has finished fourth at nationals the past three years. She's medalled at OFSAA twice and will be heading there again in the 67.5 kg weight class.

"I've never had any problems," she said, adding that she joined the Beamsville program when it was already well-established.

"You get the odd joke about mud, but the guys seem to respect it. I get surprised because I do cheerleading and gymnastics and rowing and soccer. But when I mention wrestling, people are most interested."

Vanderwiel said she's noticed a change in the type of girls coming into the sport.

"We're getting more of a variety of girls," she said. "If you're an athlete and you think you can do it, you try it.

"And a lot of girls find they're pretty good at it."

Hagersville won the SOSSA boys' wrestling team title last week followed by Beamsville. Dunnville Secondary School was fourth.

The Beamsville girls won the SOSSA team title and Hagersville finished fourth.

No schools from Hamilton-Wentworth competed.


Breaking barriers
Whittier's Martinez wrestles on boys team


has been a wrestling standout this season at Whittier High. (Staff Photo by JAMES KU)


By Roger Murray
Staff Writer 3/10/2001

Melissa Martinez has seen the looks and heard the comments.

"Another girl trying to break into a guy's sport," they say. "What's she trying to prove?"

She has watched eyes roll and heard the snickers when she walks into the gym. It's old stuff now.

It bothered Martinez a bit when she began, but her skin is thicker now. This is her thing. If it's not their's, that's their problem.

Focus is her key. She just wants to be the best she can be -- in wrestling.

Martinez recently competed in a USA School Girls Regional Wrestling competition in San Diego, finishing fourth and qualifying for the state championships next Saturday in Stockton.

It is a remarkable accomplishment, considering she started wrestling only within the past year. This past season, because Whittier High School does not have a girls wrestling program, Martinez competed with the boys.

She said she wanted to wrestle as a freshman, but everyone told her how coach Jack Coppes felt about girls wrestling.

"They said he wouldn't let me do it, or if he did, I wouldn't have any fun," she explained during a recent interview on the steps outside the auditorium before her first class.

As a sophomore, Martinez worked as a sixth-period teacher's aid and went to all the matches. It was then that she realized how much she wanted to wrestle, no matter how the coach felt.

She worked hard during the summer, then went through tryouts this past season and earned a spot in the 119-pound weight classification.

"In the beginning, it was hard to feel like part of the program. But by the middle of the year, the other wrestlers saw that I was very serious about it and began to accept me more," Martinez said.

"My teammates said they would help me, and they have -- a lot."

She also said it wasn't as easy being accepted by Coppes.

"He was the head coach," Martinez said. "I did what he said to do. He was there. I was there. We were just there. My teammates encouraged me. They told me not to let (Coppes) get to me."

Martinez said that she, her parents and Coppes met with assistant principal Dr. Mike Graber before she joined the program.

"They wanted to know why I wanted to do this, and I wanted them to know I wasn't trying to prove anything other than I just wanted to wrestle," Martinez said. "I didn't want any special treatment. I just wanted to be treated like everyone else, and get the same chance to wrestle."

Coppes admits he was uncomfortable with a girl wrestling in the program, but said it was because of the potential for injury. He said he warned Martinez's parents of that risk.

"If we had a girls program here, it would be different," Coppes said. "Actually, I take my hat off to her. She's come a long way in a very short time.

"Her mat experience is restricted, but she's a tough kid, an aggressive girl. She made all the practices, worked very hard."

Teammate Ralph Tapia, who wrestled at 135, said he saw no problems with having Martinez in the program.

"I know (Coppes) wasn't comfortable at first, but I think he got used to it. It seemed like he was worried about her getting hurt.

"As for her, she worked harder than a lot of the guys. She is very serious about it."

Martinez said that assistant coach Mike Noriega has spent the most time with her.

"I think her feelings about how Jack felt actually helped her," Noriega said. "It made her more intense. She wanted to show she belonged, that she deserved to be here. She was much hungrier than some of the boys.

"She's still learning how to wrestle, but the most important thing is that she never gives up. She just keeps going. She had the biggest heart on our team."

Noriega said Martinez's record in matches against girls is 6-2. She is 2-10 against boys.

She was 2-1 in qualifying for the state tournament, losing her only match by a point on what Noriega said was a "bad call by the referee that cost her two points."

Martinez said losing that match was tough for her emotionally.

"It bothers everybody when they lose, especially that way," she said. "I'm very competitive at whatever I do. I like competition. I grew up around boys -- not family, but in the neighborhood. I had to like competition in order to play with them."

When Martinez wrestles Saturday, it won't seem the same. No snickers, no wide-eyed looks, no whispers.

The coach in her corner really is in her corner, so focusing should be a breeze.

And that could mean trouble for the young ladies who will challenge her.


Name: Melissa Martinez
Age: 16
School: Whittier High
Class: Junior
Notable: In addition to wrestling, the slender, 5-foot-6, 113-pounder, who was born in Duarte and moved to Whittier just before her second birthday, also is one of the Cardinals' best distance runners, competing in both cross country and track.
Help needed
Whittier High School cannot contribute financially to Melissa Martinez's trip to Stockton because the wrestling competition is not CIF-related. To help defray her costs, a car wash fund-raiser will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Whittier High School (corner of Hadley and Whittier Avenue).

Martinez also is seeking donations. Anyone interested can send a check made out to Martinez in care of Whittier High, 12417 E. Philadelphia St., Whittier, CA 90601-3994. For more information, call (909) 467-2558.


Girl hangs tough on wrestling team

Staff Writer 2/28/2001

PHOTO: By MONIQUE GANUCHEAU -- Catie Coleman, an eighth-grader at Cloverleaf Middle School, practices her wrestling moves with her father, Chuck

On most days, Catie Coleman would be the only member of her team allowed into the girls' locker room at Norton Middle School. But at this particular moment on this day, she was isolated.

Coleman, 14, stood by herself on a recent afternoon as the rest of Cloverleaf's eighth-grade wrestling team piled into the girls' locker room to get ready for a match against the Panthers.

She waited patiently while the boys put on their singlets, wrestling shoes and grabbed their headgear. Eventually, a female Norton team manager pointed Coleman toward a girls' restroom -- down the hall and to the right -- where she hurried off and prepared for her exhibition match.

By the time she returned to the gym wearing the familiar green and yellow school colors, the rest of the team had gone back into the locker room for a team meeting with coach John Jones.

"One-two-three Colts," emanated from the Cloverleaf locker room as Coleman, a tall, slim girl, stood alone with her arms folded.

"I'm usually in there for that," she said shyly. "I didn't know if it was OK for me to go in there."

Gender bender

Whether it is OK for Coleman, or any other female, to participate in a boy's sport has long been a question.

Wrestling hasn't seen many girls attempt to break the gender barrier, but it's becoming more popular. Cloverleaf had a handful of girls attend the preseason meeting for the eighth-grade program this season.

The number of girls participating in wrestling at the high school level grew rapidly during the '90s. In 1990, there were 112 girls competing. The number grew every year, reaching a record 2,361 female high school wrestlers in the 1998-99 season.

There's even a national tournament for female high school competitors, although it isn't sanctioned by high school organizations.

Still, girls wrestling against boys is seen as taboo by many. It's not the same as a girl being a kicker on a football team or a goalie in hockey.

There is more than a pat on the butt involved here. The sheer nature of the sport is physical contact and compromising positions.

"It's a difficult situation," Jones said. "A lot of people outside of the program are very uncomfortable with Catie being on the team. I don't have a problem with it.

"(A few) week(s) (ago) against Revere, they didn't send anyone out against Catie for an exhibition. They just forfeited, and I told Catie this is part of it. She understood."

Coleman didn't care, either.

"I'm here to go out and give my best and hopefully win," she said matter-of-factly. "If they don't want to wrestle me, so what. I'll take a forfeit, but I'm here to wrestle."

In a way, her male opponents are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If a boy goes out and whips a female, it's brushed off as beating a girl, and possibly even seen as being a bully. If a boy loses to a girl, it could be the end of a career or a huge blow to that wrestler's self-esteem.

None of this matters to Coleman.

"There's nothing I can do," she said shrugging her shoulders. "I don't care what people say or do. I'm worried about me, not what people are thinking or saying."

Making adjustments
Although being the lone female in a male-dominated sport can be a lonely existence, those involved in this instance say that isn't always the case.

"For obvious reasons there are times when Catie can't be with the team," said Jones, who has been coaching the eighth-graders for three years. "We had to adjust a few things, but Catie is very much a part of the team and she has been accepted on all levels.

"We have a great group of kids, and I never once had to say anything to them about what's right and what's wrong. They've handled it very well."

Coleman's relationship with her teammates hasn't always been as smooth as an uncontested single-leg takedown.

"We're guys. We didn't want any girls around," said Darren Smucker, the Colts' 150-pounder. "No one wanted to practice with her, and I don't blame them."

The season began with four girls attempting to try out for the team, but only Coleman actually took the mat.

"I didn't go to practice to watch," Coleman said. "There were other girls, but they ended up leaving. I wasn't willing to just walk away because once I start something, I never quit."

That's when other wrestlers began accepting Coleman as part of the team.

"She stayed and worked hard like the rest of us," Smucker said. "It's still not the greatest situation, and things get weird, but we pull for her. She deserves to be (in matches) like everyone else."

Still, Coleman was the target of many jokes within the team.

"There are some things that happen that wouldn't if she was a boy," Smucker said. "We wouldn't hurt her. We'd never do anything bad, but we do give her a hard time. We're guys. That's what we do."

Coleman said it is part of the team function.

"At first, it was hard because they didn't like me being involved," said Coleman, who playfully hid a teammate's T-shirt during the Norton match. "But now I joke around and I'm part of the team."

The exhibition
Coleman had never seen a wrestling match before she came out this season. By the end of the season, she was competing in one just about every week. She didn't win in seven attempts, but progress was being made.

She didn't improve enough to make the starting lineup, but Coleman, like some other Colts who are not in the regular lineup, wrestled in exhibitions when Cloverleaf's opponent had extra wrestlers.

In her 122-pound match against Norton, Coleman was the better athlete; she was stronger and in time she'd probably be the better wrestler. But her inexperience was the difference in a 6-4 defeat.

Coleman, whose father, Chuck, wrestled for Brunswick in the late 1960s, walked off the mat angry, shaking her head.

"I wanted that win. I was doing pretty good, but I made one mistake and it cost me," she said. "That was the best match so far. I'm getting better. It's tough because the boys are stronger, and I'm learning as I go."

Wrestling at home
Michelle, Coleman's mother, wasn't sure how to react to the news her daughter was going to a meeting for the wrestling team with some friends.

"I thought it was strange," she said. "I guess I was in a little bit of shock, but Catie's always been involved in individual sports.

"I was scared when she started snowboarding, but with this I wasn't sure how to handle it. It was weird."

The Colemans, who have two other children, Cara, 15, and Connor, 7, figured Catie was OK when there were other girls involved, but when only one remained, parental instincts took over.

"Part of me wished she would have quit when the others did, but at the same time I'm so proud she stuck with it," said Michelle, who attends her daughter's matches, then goes home and tries to explain them to her husband, who is blind.

Coleman's improvement, along with her need for competition, has her mother wondering about the future.

"I don't know if she will try this in high school or not," her mom said. "You ask her one day and the answer is no, but then she came home from practice all excited because she (got a reversal).

"She really likes it and she's getting better, so we'll see. She doesn't like basketball and there really aren't many other sports in the winter for her to try. We'll have to wait and see what happens."

Coleman, an accomplished runner in cross country and track, is unsure as well.

"High school is so much harder," she said. "At first I was just doing it to stay in shape for track, but now I really like it.

"If there were a girls team or something, I'd definitely wrestle. But right now, I'm just trying to get better and be one of the guys."


Castlre HS Girls team 1999/2001(Hawaii.)