The East Bay Athletic League has seen some girls come through wrestling programs that were solid wrestlers. But those have been individuals as opposed to a team of wrestlers, as the numbers have never been great when it comes to girls and wrestling.
That is beginning to change.
Overall while the number of girls wrestling in an EBAL high school may usually be between 1-4, there are some schools in the North Coast Section that are taking steps in the right direction toward building the sports for females.
Locally, that school would be Dublin High. Boosted by a thriving middle school base, the school currently has 19 girls wrestling in its program.
“We had 21 on November 1,” said Dublin coach Sam Durham. “Historically that number would have dropped but we have a lot of hard work being put in by a lot of people.”
Durham pointed out that female wrestling is the fastest growing sport in college and a lot of the credit goes to the girls wrestling in the middle and high schools.
“Our biggest recruiters have been the other girls wrestling,” explained Durham.
The school system in Dublin has set the template with growth in girls wrestling at the middle schools, triggering the growth in high school.
Marissa Volk is a physical education teacher at Fallon Middle School and coaches wrestling.
“Marissa has been absolutely essential in building wrestling,” said Durham. “She wrestled in school and loved it. It has really helped having a female that wrestled helping to get new kids out.”
Volk certainly destroys the perception of what many feel about a female wrestling.
“I grew up as a dancer and a gymnast,” said Volk, who grew up in Castro Valley and is now in her 10th year at Fallon. “Then my friend's dad was a wrestling coach, and
he became our coach.”
Volk helped coached wrestling when she was doing her student teaching in Union City before getting hired at Fallon. “When I started at Fallon, I knew they had a wrestling program,” said Volk. “I wanted to get involved.”
In addition to being a PE teacher, Volk teaches yoga and other fitness programs - and Volk is also a member of the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders.
“I think it really helps that I was a wrestler,” said Volk. "I try to tell the kids that you can learn valuable tools in life as a wrestler. You can still be feminine and strong.”
“There still is a lot of machismos in wrestling,” said Durham. “Getting the word out that this sport is good and safe is the biggest thing.”
Which at times is easier said than done. Making a sport that has been traditionally a male sport that is laced with “warrior” status on the participants, into a coed environment, has its challenges.
“I have had to address sexism every single year,” said Durham. “You must be proactive – to make everyone understand that girls are just as important as boys. You make sure they feel safe and make the guys give them the respect they deserve.”
Coming in as a girl into a perceived boys’ sport has at times served as an advantage for the girls.
“A lot of the girls come in with a chip on their shoulders,” said Durham. “They outwork the boys and put that effort out on to the mat.”
A shining example of how strong an influence a female wrestler can be comes in Dublin senior Marissa Macias.
“She is incredible as a role model,” said Durham of Macias. “She is one of our captains and she puts in the work.”
Macias started wrestling when she was in elementary school because her brother wrestled. She continued to do so at Wells Middle School – they co-practice with Fallon – and now is in her fourth year at Dublin.
“I love it because it is a self-driven sport,” said Macias. “You push yourself to be better. It’s just you and one other person out there.”
Macias has seen first-hand the growth of female wrestlers at Dublin.
“My first year there was like five girls,” said Macias. “But it’s grown every year. Honestly, I was shocked when I saw how many we have this year.” Another thing Macias has seen, confronted and destroyed, is the way people view a girl wrestling.
“I know there are perceptions regarding wrestling,” said Macias. “I always hear, ‘oh, you are so brave to be wrestling.’ Every time I hear that it really makes me angry. Those are people that obviously don’t know the sport.”
And she has proved that girls belong in the sport with her results on the mat. Last year she was thrust into the spot light in a boys’ varsity match.
“My coach put me in a match 30 minutes before it started because of injury to our top wrestler in the weight group,” explained Macias. “That was nerve wracking.”
But she made the most of her chance.
“He started talking to me in the match, saying stuff like, 'well that wasn’t the nicest thing to do.' It was annoying and it made me want to beat him up. After he started talking to me, I said that’s enough, and flipped a switch. I went on and pinned him," she said.
Did she take the chance to talk back as he laid vanquished on the mat?
“Oh, I so wanted to, but I just let the result speak for itself,” said Macias.
Payton Dehnert is another girl on the Dublin team. She vividly remembers that match.
“Ah, that guy. No one ever talks like that on the mat. He was so loud,” said Dehnert, who designed the singlets for the Gaels this year. “In the spirit of good sportsmanship, Marissa didn’t say anything after she won.”
Dehnert got started in middle school as well.
“I started in 7 th grade,” explained Dehnert. “I wanted to be better than my brother in something. I didn’t like that he could beat me up.” Dehnert has also seen some sexism in wrestling but thinks it’s way on the way out.
“It is still prominent in wrestling,” said Dehnert of sexism. “We’ve had the ‘I let her beat me because she’s a girl.’ But each year it is diminishing.”
And this year will take another step in eliminating the problem. According to Durham, there will be an EBAL meet for girls to run concurrently with the boys EBAL championship. There has been a tournament in place in North Coast Section and CIF State Meet for girls. Now there is an EBAL meet for the girls.
“When I was told there was an EBAL meet this year, I was surprised,” said Macias. “It feels like there is a movement going on.”
Dehnert agreed, “I do think there is a bit of a movement. Having a league tournament this year we will make sure we are getting the best out of the EBAL.”
The EBAL tournament is a long overdue one. With people like Macias, Dehnert and Volk involved, the sport seems to be destined to find continued growth.
“If I get asked by a girl why she should wrestle, I tell her that if it is something she enjoys doing it, then keep doing it,” said Macias.
“I think it helps to have a female out there as a coach,” said Volk. “I tell girls it is cool to part of a team, and it can motivate you do something at school as well, like improve your grades.”
There are always benefits of participating in sports, and thanks to the Dublin middle and high schools, wrestling will be a great chance for young ladies to grow in life.