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Sullivan Middle's Girls' Wrestling Team Has Historic Match

For Sullivan Middle School’s seventh-grader Ava M. and eighth-grader Donna T., a black eye is a badge of honor. It means they both left everything they could on the wrestling mat.

“I just love it. I just enjoy being able to play this combat sport,” Ava said. 

They both wrestle at the middle school on the girls' wrestling team. The sport came to them by chance. They were influenced by their brothers already on the boys’ team.

“I was bored at home and looking for something to do,” Ava said. “My brother was telling me that to get some of my energy and anger out, I should try wrestling. It sounded like something that I would like to do.”

“It was like ‘Hey Dad. I am going to do something new. Pick me up at 6.’ I did gymnastics and track, but I realized that I like wrestling more than those sports,” Donna said.

Despite somewhat falling into the sport, they’re now fighting to get even more girls involved in it.

“At the beginning of the year, we joked about coming over here and maybe doing wrestling,” Donna said. “But then we had fun, so we dragged more girls.”

Within the past decade, the interest in girls wrestling skyrocketed tremendously. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the number of high school girls who competed in wrestling has quintupled since 2013. In just one year, from 2022 to 2023, the NFHS says it almost doubled. While middle school statistics aren’t as available, the girls and the coaches see the growth themselves.

“We had the first girl to wrestle at Sullivan in 2007. After that year, maybe three or four girls every year would want to wrestle,” Coach John Robinson said. “Now, we have enough girls to cover almost every single weight class.”

That’s when an idea struck. Another team, York Middle’s girls wrestling, had just as many girls on their team as Sullivan did. This sparked an idea. Coach Robinson reached out asking the York coach if he was interested in a girls’ team match. Something Robinson said had never been done before at the middle school level.

In most matches, the girls fought individually. They work for what is called a “bout score” which is calculated by the referee’s calls. However, in team matches, those bout scores are put together to make one score for everyone. With the number of girls evenly matched on both sides, it was time to make history.

“To be able to take the girls out to the gym and see there are only girls on the benches and there are only girls going out to the mat, it is so nice to see my favorite sport take that next step,” he said.

At the time, the history these girls were making didn’t quite set in. Now, they know just how important that match was to the future of girls wrestling at Sullivan and throughout the state.

“It felt pretty cool to be able to be the first ones to do this,” Ava said. “It is very important for Rock Hill and wrestling. It was exciting to do it.”

Coach Ayende Alcala, who also coaches the girls' team, said this match was years in the making.

“For me it is almost like about time…The women needed a platform to be able to have their own thing. When I watched the program here at Sullivan start picking up, I took pride in it,” Alcala said.

The two coaches agreed Sullivan Middle School was the place to make this kind of history. According to Robinson, middle school wrestling started at Sullivan under Coach Hank Hammond. Robinson said Sullivan already has a rich tradition because of Hammond, so setting another bar with the girls’ wrestling match was the obvious next push.

“To have the first girls match wrestled here continues the tradition Hammond started,” he said.

Since the match, Ava and Donna look toward the future and what the program could be. After beating York Middle 33 to 15, the girls went on to become conference championship winners, the second time in two years. They also got to participate in the first-ever girl’s state wrestling championship in 2024, finishing third.

“I want more girls to see this and see what they can do in this sport. I remember someone once said, ‘Once you do wrestling everything in life seems so much easier.’ And that is very true. It has prepared me for life,” Ava said. 

“I think I am already a part of history because we set history with some of our matches. I want to continue to feed into that history and be a part of how girls wrestling started getting more popular,” Donna said.

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