Highlighting Inspiring Women: She breaks wrestling stereotypes

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MFL MarMac wrestlers Morgan Jacobson, Emily Hendrickson-Troester, Hannah Bogdonovich, Isabella Bogdonovich, Breklyn Schutte, Lauren Kishman, Kadence Pape and Mackenzie Bachman

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the North Iowa Times is again publishing a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether it’s through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have become an inspiration to others.

“When you go somewhere and say you’re a wrestler, people don’t expect it.”

But as girls like Emily Hendrickson-Troester—and many others across the country—are proving, wrestling isn’t a sport reserved solely for boys anymore.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, female participation in wrestling has tripled in the past decade, from 5,527 girls to 16,562. Many have joined boys teams, but some states now offer girls wrestling as its own official sport. Girls camps, clubs, tournaments and even state championships have cropped up everywhere. A growing number of colleges have formed women’s programs. Plus, it’s been an Olympic sport since 2004.

That’s why, at a wrestling powerhouse like MFL MarMac, it’s no surprise that girls from elementary to high school are taking interest.

Emily, along with Kadence Pape and Chylie Feuerhelm, competed on the middle school wrestling team this past season. It was Kadence’s second year. Some girls, like 6-year-old Breklyn Schutte, are involved in the youth program. At the end of February, Emily, Kadence and Breklyn all participated in the AAU Girls State Championships. It was the first time Breklyn had ever faced another girl wrestler.

In January and February, middle school wrestling coach Brent Pape, who’s also Kadence’s dad, held an all-female wrestling camp. Fifteen girls turned out, ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade. Earlier this month, some of them—Kadence, Morgan Jacobson, Mackenzie Bachman and sisters Isabella and Hannah Bogdonovich—participated in the Female Elite Wrestling Championships in Independence. For all but Kadence, it was their first competition.

Many of the girls became interested in wrestling through their dads or brothers. Others simply wanted to experience something new.

“I saw the camp and decided to try it,” Morgan said, “and I liked it.”

“It was helpful that Brent started doing the camp,” Mackenzie added, because it allowed the newcomers to learn basic skills and technique. The environment wasn’t intimidating, since “others were new to the skills too.”

They don’t approach practice or competition any differently than a boy would. 

“Often,” said Kadence, “you have to work harder than the boys. You don’t want to get showed up.”

Through their hard work, the girls have found success on the mat, winning both matches and medals. They take away much more than that, however.

The group’s designated little sister, Breklyn said she simply wants to do her best. 

Hannah is in it to have fun. 

Lauren Kishman likes being able to connect with other people: “It’s a way to spend time with friends, and it’s a good workout.”

When they’re out on the mat, each girl enjoys being in control of her own destiny. 

“When you’re on the mat, you depend on yourself,” Emily said. 

“It’s up to you the work you put in,” Lauren shared. “And you have to be mentally strong.”

That, said Kadence, builds confidence both in the sport and in everyday life.

Isabella, the lone high school participant, has seen that first-hand. When she first told kids at school that she planned to wrestle, they were surprised, since she’s usually more reserved.

“I was not confident in myself,” she acknowledged, “but after this, I’m more confident. I’m not as quiet or timid.”

The girls are also driven to prove they can work just as hard, and wrestle just as well, as the boys.

“[Boys] always think they can beat a girl, that she’s not tough, that she doesn’t know what she’s doing,” Kadence said.

“But you can take those boys down,” Breklyn remarked.

As a result, Kadence added, “more girls are seeing wrestling as a sport, rather than something only boys do.”

The girls view MFL MarMac as a supportive wrestling community. Their parents had few reservations about letting them join the sport.

“My dad was a little nervous,” Emily admitted, “but after my first meet, when I said I had fun, he chilled out.”

“My dad thought it was a great opportunity,” shared Mackenzie of her dad, Chet, who’s the high school wrestling coach.

Locally, said Lauren, MFL MarMac has one of the bigger groups of female wrestlers.

“It’s supported and it’s growing,” she added.

Sometimes, it takes just one girl to make the leap. 

As the only girl on last year’s middle school team, Kadence said the experience was a bit isolating. Boys were largely unwilling to be her practice partner; they had to be dragged into it.

“Now that Emily joined, they’re more accepting,” she quipped. “And I enjoy it more.”

The wrestling room feels more like home to Kadence, and her fellow female wrestlers are like family.

“You’re there for them,” she said.

The older girls enjoyed being role models for the younger participants, like Breklyn.

“It makes you want to do well, to show her you can accomplish things,” Morgan stated. “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

Kadence hopes all the girls who showed interest in wrestling this year will continue to stick it out. With the addition of more programs and tournaments, as well as the possibility of college scholarships, she sees interest growing. 

“I see the boys numbers actually decreasing, while we’re increasing,” Morgan added. 

Emily said she’d eventually like to see an all-girls team at MFL MarMac.

Years down the road, when female wrestling is more commonplace, the girls said they will feel proud of their role in progressing the sport.

“When we’re older, and this blows up, I can say ‘I did that, I started that,’” Hannah noted.

“We’re leading instead of following,” Lauren said.

Kadence plans to take an active role in drumming up support and participation. She wants to keep the momentum going. 

“I know I’ll be there to help,” she said. “I want other girls to feel like they can do it too. Anyone can do it.”

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