Bonney and Falls Church hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day Girls Wrestling Classic on Sunday, with local wrestlers ages 5 to 18 taking part in a clinic and tournament. The classic brought together 42 youth wrestlers — grouped by elementary, middle and high school — to compete in round-robin brackets.
This winter, six states added official high school wrestling championships exclusive to girls, doubling the total to 12 nationwide, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Bonney said events such as this are necessary in the push to make Virginia the next one.
“We can’t wait for someone else to make it happen,” Bonney said. “We’re here now, and we can do it now.”
Interest in girls’ wrestling has rapidly increased in Virginia, with participation growing from 159 wrestlers in 2016 to 246 in 2017-18, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Despite the spike in interest, wrestling options for girls at the high school level are mostly limited to coed competitions, which can create awkward moments — as seen in Colorado in February, when a male wrestler made national news by forfeiting in the state tournament rather than compete against girls.
Sunday’s competition in Falls Church was a bit more laid-back. Although the wrestlers tussled in the circle, there was a sense of camaraderie throughout the event as girls traded stories about their seasons and socialized between matches.
Competing in the third round, Riverside’s Julianna Burkett-Erice and Culpeper County’s Trinity Berry could not keep smiles off their faces. Berry won by technical fall, and the two exchanged a handshake and a hug after the match.
Burkett-Erice, who competes for an all-girls wrestling team outside of the high school season, said wrestling against other girls allows her to focus on her own skills rather than safety. In January, Burkett-Erice placed third at 112 pounds at the third annual Virginia girls’ wrestling invitational.
“We’re kind of leading the way for girls to be able to wrestle in high school,” Burkett-Erice said. “Girls will be able to see us wrestle as a team and think, ‘That seems like fun, and I could do that.’ ”
Before the classic, former Team USA wrestler Jessica Medina hosted a skills clinic. Medina, who is the women’s coach at Ferrum (Va.) College, wrestled with Bonney on the women’s team at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
The clinic emphasized fundamentals that work with the girls’ body types, such as trapping with the hips, rather than the defensive moves that girls wrestling in boys’ leagues tend to use.
“A lot of the old-school mentality is that it’s only for boys and if you’re tough enough. Girls’ wrestling is all-inclusive; it’s for all body types,” Medina said.
“To grow the sport, you need to offer these opportunities to girls.”