The United States has 16,562 female high school wrestlers, however only 12 states have girls’ wrestling programs with state championships.
This year, Colorado piloted a program giving female wrestlers their own bracket.
Girls are starting to get more opportunities to wrestle, however many female wrestlers still find themselves fighting against a stigma. When Jaslynn Gallegos and Angel Rios opted to compete with the boys in the state championship, one of the boys declined to compete with them.
Now, Gallegos has a to-the-point message for all the boys who are reluctant to get into the ring with her, “Just wrestle me.”
High school senior Brendan Johnston forfeited a match during the Colorado state wrestling championships so he wouldn’t have to spar with Gallegos and Rios.
Johnston knew that Rios was a good wrestler who has ambitions to go to the Olympics. But the 106-pound Johnston chose to opt out of his match with her not because he was intimidated by her skill, but because he “wasn’t comfortable” with fighting a girl.
“I’m not really comfortable with a couple of things with wrestling a girl. The physical contact, there’s a lot of it in wrestling,” Johnston told the Denver Post. “And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either.”
Johnston’s decision to forfeit his matches against Gallegos and Rios effectively eliminated him from the championships.
Johnston feels like he’s doing the right thing, and he certainly framed his argument in a sympathetic and decent way but Gallegos says that’s not the point.
Gallegos told NPR she respects but doesn’t understand his decision.
Gallegos, who has been wrestling since she was five, was cheated out of a match because of her gender. Gallegos doesn’t want to be treated differently as a wrestler because she happens to be female. “I just want to be a wrestler, not necessarily defined as a girl wrestler, so it kind of hurt me a little bit,” Gallegos told NPR. “I just want to be this wrestler and my gender is holding me back.”
Gallegos also stated that that male wrestlers shouldn’t worry about #MeToo accusations after wrestling a girl. “It’s kind of unheard of in the wrestling community for a girl to say something happened during a match,” Gallegos said. “It’s wrestling and I think we all understand that it’s a very physical sport. You’re literally fighting someone to put them to their back.”
Check out this interview of Gallegos describing a tournament victory in 2017.
Gallegos ended up placing fifth in the competition, while Rios placed fourth, marking the first time a female wrestler has placed at a state level.
Gallegos says she plans on wrestling in college, but there she will wrestle mostly women.
Are girls really getting the opportunity to wrestle if boys refuse to wrestle them? As more girls take an interest in the sport of wrestling, they shouldn’t be treated differently because of their gender. To paraphrase Gallegos, just wrestle them.
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