Girls have long had the opportunity to join the St. Francis High wrestling team or participate in practice, according to head coach Todd Meulman, but they did not begin competing in meets until recent years.
Meulman noted that this year’s team includes nine girls – the most in school history – and they have their own schedule of meets that began last month.
“The girls kept telling me, ‘I want to wrestle, I want to wrestle, I want to wrestle,’” he said. “I thought, ‘These girls really want to do it, so let’s give them a shot.’ And they have been nothing but impressive in terms of their work ethic and their desire to learn.”
Deepali Joshi, who has been on the team since her freshman year, attributes the increase in popularity of the sport among girls at St. Francis to a more accepting culture.
“I remember in the beginning I didn’t really like telling people (I was a wrestler) because they would say, ‘Oh, you don’t look like (a wrestler)’ or ‘Oh, that’s surprising,’” the sophomore said. “But now I think it’s getting accepted more, and when I’m telling people or when my teachers find out, they show a lot of respect, which is really cool.”
Joshi said her proudest moment in her wrestling career was putting on a singlet uniform, which girls typically avoided because of its figure-hugging fit, instead of a compression shirt and shorts for the first time.
“Once I put on the singlet and started wrestling, I was, like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter – the singlet, or anything – because I realized in wrestling no one cares how or what you look like; it’s only (about) your skill,” she said.
In addition, Joshi said wrestling has allowed her to become more comfortable and confident in her own body.
“Wrestling is all about weight,” she said. “Before, I would never tell anyone what my weight is, but now, weight just seems like a number and it doesn’t seem as important to me because of wrestling. You see all kinds of bodies and you see everyone accepting each other – the heavyweights, the lightweights – and wrestling. And the community has helped me realize that my body isn’t something that I have to be ashamed of. It’s kind of helped me accept myself.”
According to Meulman, the team dynamic of boys and girls has been respectful, receptive and overall positive.
Junior Elizabeth Malcolm added that the supportive community is one of the best parts of being on the team.
“The wrestling community of girls is amazing,” Malcolm said. “You’re going to be able to meet new people who have experienced the same things you do and (it’s) really nice.”
This year, the girls team has four wrestlers ranked in the CCS, Meulman said.
“I’m excited for the girls,” the coach said. “They work super hard, and I’m very proud of them.”