While the competitors this weekend in the first girls high school wrestling state tournament will certainly be looking to win a state championship, they know there’s more at stake than earning a medal.
“I never really thought that this sport would mean so much to me, and being a senior and being able to take part in something that’s going to encourage other girls to wrestle means a lot,” Oberlin’s Fallon Cook said. “Being able to be a part of something so historic and so inspiring makes you feel better about yourself and what you can accomplish, too.”
Cook will be joined by Elyria freshman Riley Banyas as wrestlers from Lorain County schools who will compete in the inaugural event, which will be held at Hilliard Davidson High School and sanctioned by the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association.
Elyria senior Melanie Lester is in the 111-pound bracket but has been stuck in concussion protocol and wasn’t cleared as of Thursday night.
“There were somewhere around 450 girls in the state that went through hydration (testing), but just like the boys some of them didn’t make it through the whole season,” he said. “I think I counted on the brackets 208 girls in this tournament representing 97 different schools. So that’s pretty good.
“It’s a step in the right direction. I think (OHSAA executive director) Jerry Snodgrass has had his eyes opened. He’s been at a couple tournaments that we’ve been at and he’s very close to pushing the button to sanctioning (the sport), but my guess would be one more year.”
Cook earned a bye into the second round, and will face the winner of Fairfield’s Kaitlyn Hughes and Indian Creek’s Ellie Paterra, the No. 3 seed at 116 pounds.
Being a Phoenix team captain, Cook has had to be a leader on and off the mat, something that’s become natural after a period where she felt uneasy squaring off against the opposite gender.
“The mindset is the biggest thing I struggled with when wrestling a boy,” Cook said. “I’ve only wrestled one other girl before, but being able to get out of your comfort zone, because we’re always taught that boys and girls shouldn’t be all over each other, they shouldn’t touch each other, and to convince yourself that it’s OK to be rough and to fight … it’s something you really have to tell yourself that it’s OK and it’s something you can do.
“The physical aspect, it gets really hard as a female. We’re not physically built like a male, they have so much shoulder strength and that’s something a girl really struggles with when they wrestle a guy. You can see the difference when a girl wrestles a girl and everything’s fair.”
An even playing ground isn’t the only thing that has Cook thrilled about this weekend’s tournament. She’s anxious to mingle with other girls who understand the culture and what it means to be a girl who embraces wrestling.
“I’m hoping that going down there and being around so many girls that love this sport will not only inspire me even more but will inspire girls from this area to wrestle, too,” she said. “I haven’t been more excited for anything in my life, to be honest, but I’m also really nervous. I’ve worked so hard to get here and the fact that I’ll be able to display that at a tournament is beyond amazing.”
Oberlin coach Gary Huff said Cook has been counting down the days to the state tournament since she received an invitation to compete.
“She brought it to me at practice and said, ‘Coach, can we do this?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely, it’d be my pleasure to take you down there and be a pioneer for other young ladies across the county and across the state,'” Huff said. “I’ve got two girls on the junior high program that look up to Fallon and they want to be just like her. They want an opportunity to compete at this (event). So I’m behind it 100 percent.”