A few years ago I was stopped at a red light when my daughter asked me who was going to take Casey’s place since he would no longer be going to J Robinson’s Wrestling Camp with me. Casey and Noley, my oldest and middle child, had been in tow to this particular camp for years as part of my compensation for working the camp.
“I suppose some other kid. Probably a Coeur d'Alene kid” I offered without much thought.
“I want to go,” she said in that tone that she sometimes uses when all negotiations have been removed from the table.
I looked at her. She was eleven years old at the time and she sat with her arms crossed and jaw set. I laughed and reminded her of the glaringly obvious, “You don’t wrestle. You’ve never wrestled. You have never even participated in a wrestling practice.”
“I am going to that camp with you and Noley,” she declared, shifting in her seat so that she was turned towards me, forcing me to take the full brunt of her narrowing eyes and now tilted head.
I returned my gaze to the slowly moving traffic, offering her occasional glances to see, maybe hoping, that a smile, a “gotcha” would spread across her stern face.
“Dad, I am going. I am taking Casey’s place and I am going with you and Noley to J Robinson’s camp,” her tone had shifted from suggestion to request to done-deal. “I am going.”
Admittedly, I was feeling a bit panicky. Here’s the thing, when you look at Alyssa, you likely see the same traits you see in any young teen girl: a girl who scrolls through social media, who laughs loudly, who cries at unkind words, who tells you to “Turn that up!” when a certain song comes on the radio. Me? I am a dad so I see a five year old with soft blond curls. I see a little girl who does cartwheels down store aisles and flings princess dresses from a treasure box of dresses, looking for the right one, “The ‘puple one’ that go with my princess shoes.” I see the little girl who climbed on my lap when she got scared or tired.
Cautiously, tip-toeing around anything that might be regarded as sexist, or some unintended double standard, I worked to bring her back to the negotiation table, “Lissy, don’t you think that kids that go to wrestling camp should have at least wrestled before?”
“Oh, I’m wrestling Dad. Canfield let’s sixth graders wrestle so I am wrestling. And I am going to that camp, too,” she was now looking out the window, already seeing herself at wrestling camp, I suppose.
We had recently moved from Sandpoint, where 6th graders did not attend middle school, to Coeur d’Alene where not only did 6th graders attend middle school but evidently could join the middle school wrestling team. Damnit.
I looked at her again, seeing her the way I see her; her blonde curls dancing in the wind, her silly laugh that rose with the carefree ease of blown bubbles. I saw her dancing across the living room floor to Taylor Swift.
As much as I love wrestling and as much as it has been a part of my family’s life, I simply could not see my little girl throwing down on a wrestling mat.
“You know it’s a pretty tough sport. Sweaty. It even has blood time…Just sayin’.” I am a terrible person.
“Helen Maroulis wrestles. Adeline Gray wrestles,” she came back swinging.
Damn you Helen Maroulis and Adeline Gray.
“Ok, here’s the deal. I will take you to camp. If and only if you finish the middle school season,” I felt this was a safe bet. Maybe, well probably, I decided, she simply didn’t know what she was getting in to.
A few months later, my wife and I visit the middle school wrestling room, where we hoped to hear the good news of her dismay with the sport. Her coach, one of my former wrestlers, however, was not delicate in sharing the bad news, “Oh, she loves it. As a matter of fact, she’s so athletic she’ll win some matches.”
My wife took a deep breath and raised her eyebrows as if to say that Coach Hook had failed to support Project Make Alyssa Hate Wrestling. “That wasn’t the plan,” she reminded Coach.
He shrugged his shoulders and started laughing, “What do you want me to do? She’s doing great.”
Fast forward a few years later to last week, a few months after she finished 3rd in districts (Yes, competing against boys) and I am sitting at a safe distance from the mat (sometimes I just want to enjoy cheering and not always coaching) watching Alyssa surrounded by a group of girls like her: courageous in the trails they’ve been willing to blaze; strong and independent in their willingness to step into that circle; and, well, silly.
Idaho’s first all-girl team competed against teams from surrounding states, including those that took girls’ wrestling serious a long time ago, like Hawaii and Washington. Collectively, those girls can flat out wrestle and compete with the same tenacity and heart as you’ll find in any boys’ tournament. Importantly, though, the comparisons are neither relevant nor necessary.
What is relevant and what is necessary, though, is that we no longer go about the business of thoughtlessly staking out some position regarding who should and who should not wrestle. Ironic, isn’t it, that we value so many of the lessons that wrestling conveys (hard work, discipline, and accountability) but somehow arrived at the conclusion that these qualities should be reserved for boys only. Yeah, I get that these lessons can be learned elsewhere but can they really be learned the way wrestling teaches them? Look, would we reserve the best teachers for boys only? Wrestling is the best teacher that most of us will ever have. Doesn’t it just make sense that we encourage our daughters to take that class with the best teacher?
After the Girls’ Turf Wars Tournament concluded last week, Alyssa sat in the passenger seat, recounting everything from practices to matches to dorm room shenanigans to the homemade pickles one of the coaches brought for them. She spoke excitedly, her words tumbling like children over the top of each other. And finally she grew tired. Hours later, the sky grew dark and under the flickering moonlight that cut through the darkness and stole into the car, I glanced to my little girl. I saw past the mat burns and the bruise that stretched across her right temple and I saw the soft blond curls, I saw the purple-dressed princess dancing to Taylor Swift. Some things, I suppose, are not subject to change.
Then her voice, still thick with sleep, rose softly, “Dad, how old do you have to be to go to Fargo?”
“A cadet or junior,” I spoke softly, thinking that maybe she was talking in her sleep.
“Dad,” her voice even softer now, “What am I?”
“You are a second year schoolgirl.”
“Dad, I am going to Fargo next year. I am.”
(PS, A big thanks to Angela Foster, Cierra Foster, Chris Owens, JB Plato, Koral Sugiyama and all the parents who worked to make sure these girls are afforded the opportunities that should never be denied to anyone)
Authored by Mike Randles (long time Head Coach & Educator @ Sandpoint High School & current Administrator @ CDA High School)
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