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“The women are taking over”: Women’s wrestling at Arcata High School

Rory+Bickmore+and+Piper+Bjorkstedt+drilling+takedowns+over+Thanksgiving+Break
Lillian Afridi
Rory Bickmore and Piper Bjorkstedt drilling takedowns over Thanksgiving Break

Wrestling is undeniably a male-dominated sport. But the times are changing, and ideas about what it means for a sport to be “masculine” or “feminine” are as well. Across the United States, women’s and girls’ wrestling are gaining momentum. At Arcata High School, the girls’ wrestling team is growing in numbers. 

Modern high school wrestling has been around since the mid-twentieth century. Toward the end of the 20th century, girls and women were allowed to wrestle, yet there was no official division for them, meaning they had to compete within the boys’ and men’s brackets. 

I think there might have been one female that came in the room when I was wrestling here, but they never stuck,” the current AHS principal and a previous AHS wrestler, Ron Perry, said. 

California officially sanctioned state high school championships for girls in 2011, making girls’ wrestling an incredibly recently developed sport. Perry is excited to see so many young women out for the team this school year.

 

United through a sport 

Rory Bickmore is a new transfer student from Saint Bernard’s Academy and it will be her fourth year wrestling. Bickmore, in part, got involved with wrestling to get closer to her father and her brother, Chase Bickmore. 

“There’s definitely a lot more boys, so especially when you get to bigger tournaments the girls just kind of group together. It doesn’t matter if you’re from opposite sides of the state or from different states. It’s just like one big community,” Rory Bickmore said. 

At Arcata High, the wrestling practices are co-ed. But when it comes to matches and tournaments, girls and boys compete in separate divisions. 

“The girls’ wrestling community is strong because we are all fighting for survival and recognition within a male-dominated sport,” wrestler Piper Bjorkstedt said. “We don’t want girls’ wrestling to be seen as a different sport or less than.” 

 

Struggling in a male-dominated scene

Rory Bickmore feels respected by most male wrestlers. Still, many female wrestlers experience difficulty being in a male-dominated space. 

“Sometimes it can be hard to be seen as the same as a guy on the team, even though we put in the same hours and same blood, sweat, and tears,” said Bjorkstedt. 

Harmoney Claybon, a junior, often finds herself partnered with boys on the team during practices. “Sometimes it kind of sucks, but also I know that wrestling with guys will make me better, especially guys who are a lot better,” she said. 

There are significantly fewer girls on the team than boys (8 girls and 42 boys). Yet this does not discourage the girls from training. Like Claybon, some make the best of the situation, knowing that it will push them harder to succeed. That being said, there is an active team effort to build a supportive environment that includes everyone who is dedicated to the sport, regardless of gender or skill level, according to Bjorkstedt. 

 

The Arcata High wrestling team grows 

Rory Bickmore has seen the sport grow significantly in recent years. “Sections was way bigger this year than last year, even though it’s relatively small. You’re getting bigger tournaments, with bigger bracket sizes.” 

This means a lot for female wrestlers. There has always been a drastic size difference between girls’ and boys’ tournaments, as girls’ tournaments tend to be smaller and have less funding. As the sport grows, more opportunities open up for individuals.

Some boys on the Arcata High Wrestling team also show enthusiasm for the increase in support for women’s wrestling. 

“It’s just cool to see the sport grow because it started at nothing. Women’s wrestling is growing a lot. It’s cool to see women being invited and encouraged to join a male-dominated sport,” Chase Bickmore, a 10th grader who has been wrestling for about 10 years, said. He has seen the development of bigger girls’ tournaments during his years wrestling. 

“They are still a part of the team, still working, still getting better. It increases the team dynamic,” Chase Bickmore said when commenting on how he views the girls on the team.

All of the wrestlers on the girl’s team encourage girls to join in the future. 

“We need more girls to show up and know that they can do it and that it’s not something they should be afraid of or intimidated by,” Bjorkstedt said. 

 

As it stands, there are eight people on the girls’ wrestling team. Cass Bell has been the Arcata High School wrestling coach for the previous two years and is happy to see the number of female wrestlers grow. He believes that wrestling is important for everyone, regardless of gender, because it gives you confidence in your capabilities as well as teaches humility. 

“You’re going out there and you’re battling. Especially for women, you get to get physical and take someone down… I see everyone who has wrestled for a while gain this sense of confidence,” Bell said.

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About the Contributor
Lillian Afridi
Lillian Afridi, News Correspondent
Lillian Afridi is a junior at Arcata High School. Although it is her first year working for The Pepperbox, she couldn’t be more thrilled. Lillian has always had a keen interest in storytelling, and since middle school, she has aspired to be a Pepperbox reporter. She looks forward to bringing the paper new stories that help others connect with people in their community. In her free time, Lillian enjoys listening to music, spending time in nature, and training Jiu-Jitsu. You can contact her through email or Instagram.
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