Girls wrestling program takes off at West Forsyth
Published 2:08 pm Friday, November 18, 2022
By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier
Fans of West Forsyth athletics can look for something new during this school year — girls wrestling.
This past April, the NCHSAA unanimously approved girls wrestling as a sanctioned sport beginning during the 2023-24 school year, the first time a new sport had been sanctioned by the NCHSAA since 2010 when it sanctioned lacrosse.
The 2022-23 season will be used as a practice run to work out any issues there might during the season, and to help with the seeding process during championships.
The National Federation of State High School Associations will release weight classes for the girls before the 2023-24 season.
Even though this season will be used as a trial run by the NCHSAA, the girls will have their own state championship. Before this season, girls who wrestled were in an invitational.
And West Forsyth, which has had a storied boys wrestling program and has won two NCHSAA Class 4-A dual-team championships, is more than prepared for the upcoming girls season, which starts Friday with a match at Monroe Parkwood. The Titans currently have 26 female wrestlers.
“We had about 30-plus that came out, showed interest,” Coach Jason Hooker of West Forsyth said. “I think we’re right at 26 right now that are sticking.
“I noticed that a lot of other teams are starting with a lot and then dropping down. (There were) a couple early teams were going to bring some girls to the scrimmages, they started with 12 or 14 and they’re down to two.”
Girls wrestling isn’t new to West Forsyth. It has had wrestlers for years, including, Breonnah Neal, who wrestled at West Forsyth when Coach Mike Bryant was the head coach.
Neal graduated in 2013, having won 111 matches against boys. After graduating from West Forsyth, she attended Campbellsville (Kentucky) University to wrestle.
Neal transferred to King University in Bristol, Tennessee, in 2014. While there, Neal finished with a 21-0 record in 2017. She is currently the women’s wrestling coach at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Florence Zaitawi of West Forsyth competed in the first state invitational in 2019 at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. Zaitawi competed in the 145-pound weight class and won the state championship.
“I’ve never minded having girls on the team,” Hooker said. “I just felt more comfortable if they can work with girls and compete against girls. And so, when they did that and I knew other teams were going to have girls that they could compete against that really pushed it because they would have an opportunity.
“Because I just think for a boy it’s a lose-lose situation because if goes out there and beats a girl people might make fun of him for that. And if he goes out there and loses to a girl then they might make fun of him for that.”
Even though before now girls had to wrestle in a state invitational championship, they could’ve wrestled individually in the state championship.
Heaven Fitch, who was a junior at Uwharrie Charter, broke through in 2020 and won the 106-pound state championship, defeating Luke Wilson of Robbinsville with an 11-3 major decision to become the first girl in North Carolina to win a state championship, finishing the season with a 54-4 record.
Fitch’s win became national news and her story was made into a documentary called “Heaven,” which was on the WWE Network.
“At high-school age, guys are just stronger right now than girls,” Hooker said.
Hooker’s own daughter, Madison, wrestled when she was at Ellis Middle School in Davie County in 2012.
“In middle school, my daughter wrestled for me and I’ve had some girls wrestle for me in middle-school age,” Hooker said. “And they are stronger at that time than the boys.”
Through the preseason scrimmages, the excitement for the new sport of girls wrestling has been palpable.
“I think it’s going to be big,” Hooker said. “If you could’ve been there at the scrimmage, the guys are wrestling and it was no big deal, but (when) the girls were wrestling it seemed like everybody was over there screaming and cheering. It was a good environment.”
Hooker won’t be coaching the girls team alone. Rachel Roberts will be assisting the girls team.
“I think it’s very important (to have a woman coach) because they’re going to talk to her about stuff that they’re not going to talk to me about,” Hooker said.
The boys and girls are also practicing in separate areas.
“We’re keeping them separated, too,” Hooker said. “I have a certain area that my girls are practicing in, and my boys are practicing in another area. I’d just rather not intermingle at all. I think that’s why we got so many out because we told them they wouldn’t have to compete or work with the guys. So, they didn’t feel uncomfortable about coming out. And now they’re just working with girls.”
One difference for the girls is that there will be 12 weight classes instead of 14 for the boys.
“I just think kids are getting bigger. They’re not getting smaller,” Hooker said. “And for girls, they’ve got a 100(-pound) weight class and 107. And last week I couldn’t find a girl under 107 pounds. And it’s the same thing for the boys. They’ve been trying drop 220 down to 215. Hey, I’ve got more 300-ponders and 230-pounders than I do 215 and 285.”
No matter the weight class for the girls, it’s all new for everybody.
“Mostly, the events that the girls will be competing in will be tournaments,” Hooker said. “And I’ll sort of wait to add a couple duals once I know some teams are going to solidify and have a full lineup.”
The regionals and state championships won’t be broken up into classes. So, the NCHSAA Midwest Regional is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 6 at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis. The state championship is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 3 at RISE Indoor Sports Center in Bermuda Run, as well as Sat., Feb. 4 at Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse.
“Most regionals have 16 wrestler per weight class, but this year for girls they’re only taking eight girls per weight class,” Hooker said. “You’ve got a bunch of teams in our region that have full teams, so there are going to be a bunch of good girls — they’re not even going to get to compete. That’s what I don’t like.”