In just seven short years after the IOC unsuccessfully tried to pull wrestling from the 2020 Olympic games in 2014, the sport has seen a recent surge in popularity that has been, in large part, spurred on by the unprecedented growth of Women’s wrestling. In fact, in June 2019 the NCAA’s Committee of Women’s Athletics recommended that all three divisions of the NCAA add women’s wrestling as an emerging sport effective as August 2020.
The impact of this growth is not only at the International and Collegiate levels. As of January 1, 2020, twenty-one states have sanctioned girl’s wrestling at the high school levels, with many more starting to pushing to follow suit.
(for a complete list of states with sanctioned girl’s wrestling, check out https://wrestlelikeagirl.org/sanction)
“I think the biggest benefit to girl’s wrestling was the start of Women’s MMA, especially in the UFC,” explains David Borden, who coaches for the Blackman Wrestling Club. “That has exposed so many people to world of women’s wrestling,” Borden continued. Borden’s daughter Addison has competed for BWC for the last 4 seasons
Blackman Wrestling Club, which is open to all residents of Rutherford County in Tennessee, is the AAU “feeder” club for the Blackman High School Program whose boys’ team placed 3 rd in the TSSAA High School State Championships in 2020. Like many other schools in the state, Blackman is starting to build a girl’s program to run parallel to its traditional boys team. During the 2019 season, Blackman High School had three girls compete in the TSSAA Girl’s West Regionals for the first time, with then Freshman Alyson Colson becoming the first girl to qualify for the TSSAA Girl’s State Championship Tournament in the team’s history. In 2020, three out of the four girls competing at Regionals qualified for the TSSAA Girl’s State Championship Tournament. There, Blackman’s Morgan Sacharczyk (3rd) and Nena Brown (4th) secured the team’s first girl’s state medals. In two short seasons, Blackman’s girls program jumped from finishing 35 th in 2019 to a 12 th just one season later.
To continue the growth and development of the Girl’s High School program, Blackman Head Coach Ronnie Bray and Girl’s Head Coach Andi Jones have emphasized the importance of cultivating girl’s wrestling into their club program. That’s not to say that the club hasn’t had success with girl wrestlers since its inception at the beginning of the 2013-14 TNAAU season. In 2018 and 2019, Piper Fowler won back-to-back TNAAU Girl’s State Championships, first in the 103-111 weight class, and again in the 117-127lbs weight class one season later, pairing that with a State Championship in the boys division in 2019 as well before moving from Murfreesboro last summer.
“We have to keep promoting the fact that there is not only an opportunity to for girl’s to wrestle at the youth level through Middle School in Tennessee, but that there is an entire division dedicated to it,” Blackman Wrestling Club Vice President and Head Youth Coach Mike Workman said. “The future success of girl’s wrestling at the high school levels starts with them getting involved at an early age and growing in the sport before they get to high school.”
This season, Blackman Wrestling Club had two girls competing; Addison Borden entered her fourth season for the club and Madison Newbern entered her first season ever.
“Growing up, I loved watching UFC with my dad and watching my idol Ronda Rousey in the octagon,” explained Madison, an 8 th grader who wrestled for the Middle School group within the Blackman Wrestling Club. “I have done Karate since I was seven and wanted to do ground work like Ronda. When I saw my cousin wrestling in high school, I knew I had to start wrestling.”
Madison entered the 2019-2020 season brand new to the sport, but didn’t let that inexperience get in her way. With only a few weeks of practice under her belt, she was thrust into the starting line-up for the Middle School club team, spending the vast majority of her time competing against boys who often had years of experience within the sport.
“I would be looked at as the quick win or a warm-up,” she stated. “They often couldn’t look past me being a female to see that I was a tough competitor or that I was not going to give up. Of course there’d be catcalls, comments, or stares, but I knew that nothing would be able to stop me or make me look back from what I wanted to do. If I have a goal, I’m going to get there. I’d think ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but you’re going to get beat by this girl’.”
Madison used that focus and determination to win the TNAAU Region 3 Girl’s Division 140lb championship, and also qualified for the TNAAU Boys tournament after placing 4 th in the 140lb weight class.
“The most rewarding thing for me was the pride I had in myself. After a win, I’d say ‘I did that’, knowing how much work I’d put in to accomplish it,” she explained. “I had a boost of confidence and pride in myself for setting goals and achieving them. It was also so rewarding to accomplish a difficult task and show everyone at the match that a girl can outwrestle a boy. I loved walking off of the mat to my coaches and parents, who were also very proud of me.”
Unlike Madison, Addison entered this year with years of prior experience, starting in the youngest age group, Tots, back in 2015 as a mighty 35lber.
“I have wrestled for four years, but watched my brother for two years before that,” said Addison. “My daddy wrestled. It’s a family sport, plus it sounded fun and normally girls don’t wrestle. It’s cool because it’s normally more of a boys sport and I love to show what a girl can do.”
Borden wrestled in only four tournaments during the 2019-2020 season, but medaled in the top 5 in three of those tournaments, and was a runner-up twice, once in a girls division tournament and the other in a boys division tournament.
The communal aspect of being the only two girls in a club of eighty wrestlers resonates loudly for Borden. In a time when women are competing at high levels globally within the sport, it isn’t an Olympian that she looks up to and admires, it’s her own teammate. “Madison is my favorite,” said Addison. “She works so hard and never gives up.”
Entering into a predominately male sport doesn’t come with apprehension. Both Madison and Addison’s parents understood the challenges that faced both their daughters. David Borden, Addison’s father, was a wrestler in high school and has an older son, Rylan, who wrestled for two seasons before Addison even stepped foot onto a practice mat.
“I was very nervous about Addison wrestling,” he said. “Wrestling traditionally has tougher and stronger boys, but as time went by she proved that she could hang with the best of them. I think the toughest part about having a daughter that wrestles is seeing the disappointment on her face after a defeat against a boy. I wish for her, and for other girls too, that this sport continues to grow and that more girls get involved so that the number of girls competitions grow as well.”
Much like the Bordens, Madison’s parents were familiar with rigors of their daughter participating in combat sports since Madison holds a black belt in Karate. After watching Madison grow up watching Mixed Martial Arts on TV and idolizing Ronda Rousey, the Newberns discovered girls wrestling through Madison’s cousin who was wrestling at a nearby high school.
“We really didn’t know anything about wrestling and had no idea what to expect going into it. We didn’t even realize that it was going to be co-ed at times” explains Amanda Newbern, Madison’s mother. “Our initial concern was that she would work so hard during practices only not to be able to compete at tournaments if there wasn’t another girl. While we would have loved to have her wrestle against more girls, we were happy that she was still able to compete every weekend.”
Currently the number of girl competitions are tied to the bigger events within the state. This year the Top 100 events held in Chattanooga, Memphis, and Sevierville, the Music Brawl held in Franklin, the Clarksvegas Showdown in Clarksville, as well as the TNAAU Regional Championships and the TNAAU State Championships each had a girl’s division. Despite the limited number of events, both Madison and Addison are optimistic that the growth girls wrestling is currently experiencing will lead to an increase in the amount of available events for girls looking to compete against other girls and encourage parents with girls that are interested in wrestling in letting them get involved.
“I believe all girls should try wrestling because of the community and how much fun it is” explains Madison. “It improves your mentality, improves your confidence, and keeps your mind and body active.”
“Don’t worry, its fun,” said Addison, echoing the sentiments of her teammate. “It’s really fun when you take the boys down. Don’t be afraid. Once you start, the nervousness goes away. It’s all about having fun and working hard.”
With Madison’s lone season with Blackman Wrestling Club concluded, Addison is currently the only girl registered with the club, but it won’t remain that way for long. Matt Beasley, whose son Zain was the Region 3 Bantam 70lb Champion, plans on registering both his daughters Dixie and Trinity for the 2020-21 season.
“The great experience we had last year in the club with their brother made us pull the trigger on making this a family sport,” explains Beasley. “Trinity helped a lot at home with one-on-one practice since they were close in age and weight, and Dixie already has an aggressive side to her. I just want them to experience different things and to learn a skill to defend themselves if they ever need to.”
As numbers continue to increase with the popularity of girls wrestling, the success of the high school program still in it’s infancy, and the number of younger girls starting to get involved, the outlook for the future of girls wrestling within the Blackman Wrestling Club is encouraging, but Mike Workman and the rest of the BWC staff isn’t satisfied.
“We just have to keep getting them involved early and make the public aware that we are here,” said Workman. “Once we start getting the word out and people see the hard work that the girls put in and the growing numbers of opportunities out here for them, we will get where we want to be. The wrestling community is second to none in terms of support for one another, and it’s a community that wants to see girls not only participate, but to compete and to succeed.”
Blackman Wrestling Club registration for the 2020-21 season will open in September. For any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org