Girls Can’t What?

Some girls are breaking the barrier of gender separation in sports by playing male-dominating sports. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of girls competing in high school wrestling increased 18 percent. Virginia High School League Participation Surveys also indicate greater participation from girls in wrestling statewide.

Two girls who are part of this trend are Samantha Tyner (‘21) and Jenna Raggio* (’21), eighth grade female wrestlers at Collegiate. As a first-time wrestler, Tyner had a challenging season, with a record of 1-6. As the season progressed, she gained a reputation as the “Collegiate girl wrestler.”  Tyner worked hard every day to match the skills of her fellow teammates, most of whom have been wrestling longer. But Tyner saw this “serious challenge” as an opportunity. Although her season ended with a dislocated arm, she hopes to continue wrestling next season. “The only thing that could stop me would be my arm,” Tyner said of her wrestling career.

Tyner and Raggioan are not the only females who have made the decision to wrestle. Morgen McLaughlin, a high school student a Northern High School in Maryland, is one of many girls who has been competing in wrestling. Although she wrestles competitively, she often cheers on other female opponents, as “I know what it’s like to be out there wrestling and people don’t want you to win.” Another girl who wrestles competitively is Olivia Ioppolo, a senior at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, who qualified for her state tournament. Others, like Kaley Barker, a junior at Mountain View High School, and Angel Rios, a freshman at Loveland Classical Schools (both in Colorado), also qualified for their state tournament.

Tyner explained her decision to join the team: “I wanted to do a sport that was dominated by men and boys to show all girls that we can do it as well. I wanted a sport that would work me physically, as most boy sports do.”

Tyner’s biggest challenge of the season was “trying to fit in, outside of [her] team.” Having a team that “warmly accepted [her] as a member,” it was other teams that gave her a hard time giving her, “disapproving looks at meets and matches.” The glances came from opponents, but also parents. “I did my best to ignore them, that earned me another disapproving look that I gladly ignored as well,” Tyner remembers.

Tyner’s family is very supportive of her decision to wrestle. When finding out her sister was going to wrestle, Austin Tyner (‘18) was very supportive: “ I am always supportive of the progressive things my little sister does, but I was worried about if she might get hurt by playing a sport that is dominated by men. I am always protective of her and I always will be, but I know she could hold her own.”

Having a girl compete in a male-dominated sports is uncommon. Tyner says, “I often feel that being a girl means that I am not allowed to be muscular and strong and I can’t do things that guys can.” Fellow Cougar wrestler Marshall Campbell (’20) says, “It’s been good for the sport, since [female wrestling] is in now in the Olympics, and it’s good that there are more girls getting out there.”

Tyner hopes to see more girls playing male-dominated sports. “I want all sports to be equally dominated by both girls and guys. I would love to see a girl go and play in a football game or pitch at a baseball game. I want them to join because they are determined and want a challenge.”

Photo courtesy of Collegiate School.

* Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Raggio’s last name. We regret the error.

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