MALVERN, Ark. (KTHV) — The sport of wrestling has seen its ups and downs over the years. Most recently, it’s been the center of attention after it was announced that wrestling would no longer be an Olympic sport. While the debate continues on that issue, the sport itself grows in popularity.
Take downs. Grappling. Pinning your opponent.
“We practice a couple hours a day, five days a week and pretty much year round. We don’t take any time off. We’re just constantly practicing year round,” says Glen Rose High School head coach Doug McGuire.
McGuire is the head wrestling coach at Glen Rose and also coaches kids around the Malvern area at the club level. But there’s something that makes this team unique.
“As far as girls, I think it’s great. Wrestling is one of the fasting growing sports for women in college. I think there are 12 college teams now with women’s wrestling,” says McGuire.
McGuire has been wrestling and coaching in Arkansas for decades, but just recently he began coaching girls at such a high level of competition. In March he had three girls competing at the USA Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City.
“It’s a completely unique experience.”
This was the first time Aimee Wright competed at nationals. She placed second in the 15 and under division.
“It’s such a higher athletic ability to be able to do all this. You have to be super fit to be doing all this. It’s amazing,” Wright says.
Wright began wrestling as a way to get back in shape.
“I was like extremely overweight.”
But what she’s gotten out of it is so much more.
“I’ve learned to be a really good sport because if you lose, it’s just you. It’s not a team that’s losing. It taught me self-respect and respect to others.”
She’s not alone on that thought.
“You don’t really lose. You learn,” says 13-year-old wrestler Heather Whitehead.
Whitehead is in her first year wrestling at the club level. She’s says there’s more of a technical aspect to wrestling than anything else.
“It’s not about strength. Even if the guy’s stronger than you, it’s about technique. The faster you are the better. The more technical, the better. Stronger? Doesn’t matter,” Whitehead explains.
What makes their feats even more impressive? These girls are competing against boys.
“It’s funny because they’re kind of nervous about it. And they’re like eww it’s a girl, I don’t [want to] hurt her.’ And you can take advantage of that,” says Whitehead.
“It was actually kind of enjoyable seeing them back down because I’d walk up there and they didn’t want to wrestle a girl or get beat by a girl,” says 18-year-old wrestler Jackie Breshears.
Breshears, another first year wrestler, competes at Woodlawn High School as well as on McGuire’s club team. She says she loves the reaction she gets when people find out she’s a wrestler.
“They think I’m crazy because I’m a girl and it’s a boy sport. And most females who are my age wouldn’t want to go out and get all sweaty and wrestle around with a bunch of boys, but it [doesn't] bother me at all,” Breshears says.
And with weight classes starting as small as 45 pounds, it’s a sport even younger girls are getting into.
“It’s cool and I wanted to really do it.”
Isabella McGuire, just eight years old, got interested in the sport thanks to her dad who is also her coach.
“We started the team here about three years ago and she came to me and wanted to wrestle on the club team. So I started letting her do that,” says Coach McGuire.
She says competing at this age is exciting.
“I [want to] be in the Olympics because I [want to] get gold,” Isabella says with excitement.
As the sport continues to rise in popularity across the nation, right here in Arkansas there are a handful of girls ready to lead the way.
“It feels [kind of] good because you can, if you start now, you can kind of set history. You do this really amazing thing and people 10 years from now people will be like ‘hey that’s [kind of] awesome, I [want to] try that.'”
Saturday, the State Freestyle Wrestling Tournament took place in Springdale. Although it’s typically a boys’ competition, Aimee Wright did compete in the tournament. Coach McGuire called us earlier and said Aimee finished third.