This was a scene Fort Osage freshman Haley Ward never imagined she would see. Here she was, surrounded by dozens of other girls wrestling Tuesday night on five mats in two gyms at her own school.
“I really didn’t expect girls wrestling to grow this much,” Ward said. “I was the only girl when I started, so to see all these girls really makes me happy.”
It was a happy sight for anyone interested in girls wrestling and another sign of how quickly the sport has been growing. Fort Osage played host to its first “Battle of the Braids” Girls Wrestling Scramble, and 185 girls from 28 schools – including William Chrisman, Grain Valley, Van Horn and Lee’s Summit North – showed up.
No team scores were kept, and the competition took place in brackets based on ability. Still, it was an impressive display of participation and talent in a sport that just barely existed on the high school level until last year.
“We’re kind of at the forefront of growth in wrestling,” said Fort Osage coach Brandon Wackerman, who oversees the Indians’ boys and girls teams. “Your seeing year two of wrestling being a stand-alone sport in Missouri and the first in Kansas. So this is just the very forefront of that and you’re seeing a great turnout in both states.”
They turned out to compete in a round-robin format of three-girl divisions, with some weight classes divided into as many as seven divisions. Each wrestler got two matches.
With so many girls so new to the sport, Wackerman believed the format was the best way to get many of them competitive matches against opponents of similar ability.
“In a bracketed tournament, generally speaking all of the seeds are hitting unranked wrestlers,” Wackerman said. “People always ask in those tournaments when are the semis, when are the finals. The nice thing about a night like this is you had two Fargo All-Americans wrestling each other in the first 20 minutes.”
Ward, a runner-up in the Marine Corps Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., and a Pan-Amerian Games gold medalist last summer, met Nonnie Justice of Harrisonville, a state champion and Cadet All-American too, in the first 130-pound A Division match. Ward held on for a 2-0 victory after scoring a takedown in the third period.
“There’s good competition around here,” said Ward, who pinned Mateja Wilson of Odessa in her other match. “I’m just happy there are people who can push each other and we know we can push each other.”
The competition was so good that Tess Kinne, a Fort Osage senior and state qualifier last season, split her two 135-pound A-Division matches. Kinne lost a 5-3 decision against Kaylie Dow of Platte County and pinned Jennifer Garcia of Van Horn.
One loss wasn’t about to dampen Kinne’s spirits. Not on a such a big night for girls wrestling.
“My freshman year was like, girls don’t wrestle in Class 4,” Kinne said. “It’s huge to put on something like this.”