PEORIA, Ill. — Junior Maria Lopez has some company on the Richwoods wrestling team.
“Last year I was the only girl,” Lopez said. “I know what it’s like to be the only girl on the team. But this year having so many girls is insane.”
Three years ago, Richwoods head coach Rob Penney started a Kids Club for wrestlers aged 5-13. He thought it would prepare young boys for high school wrestling.
Little did he know young girls would flock to the club to give wrestling a try. This winter he has 57 students out for wrestling and 17 are young ladies.
“We’re seeing more and more girls wrestle a all levels, kids though high school,” said Penney. “And colleges are starting (women’s wrestling) programs left and right.”
Part of the appeal for girls wrestling is most female athletes are playing basketball or club volleyball in the winter. There aren’t many options.
So wrestling is giving them a great alternative.
Katelin Boone/Richwoods freshman: “Girls don’t think they are tough enough to wrestle because it’s a guy’s sport, but it’s really not. It’s coed,” freshman Katelin Boone said.
Boone and teammate Kyley Bair are among the newcomers that were introduced to wrestling through the Peoria Wizards youth club started by the Richwoods coaching staff.
“It’s coed. It keeps you in check with everything you are doing,” Bair said. “It’s discipline. And it’s fun once you get to know it.”
For now, these girls will wrestle against boys but Richwoods hopes to enter two all-female wrestling tournaments this winter.
“You’re constantly active,” Lopez said. “It’s better than being at home or watching other people play sports while you do nothing.”