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In Kitsap, female wrestling overshadowed
The only sport Kiana Witt enjoys more than wrestling is football.
When the Kingston High School senior entered the ninth grade, she found her options limited.
“I couldn’t really play in high school, because it’s not offered for females,” Witt said of her high school sports options. “I’ve never really played on a girl’s sports team.”
Despite not being allowed to participate in football, Witt is one of the top wrestlers in the Olympic League, taking home the 112-pound state title in 2009 at the annual Mat Classic.
Witt, still in the 112-pound class, wrestled since she was 8 years old after encouragement from Kingston High head coach Bobby Reece.
Though she stands out as a top competitor in the Olympic League, Witt is one of three girls at Kingston and one of 15 female wrestlers total in Kitsap County on a high school team.
Bremerton High team has seven girls, which is up from an average of about three in the past five years, said Bremerton head coach Jeff Barton. These seven wrestlers include senior Lauren Richardson, a 112-pound wrestler this year, who won the 103-pound state title in 2009.
Among the other schools, there are two females wrestling for Central Kitsap High, one for Klahowya and two for South Kitsap.
Schools without female wrestlers, such as North Kitsap and Bainbridge High, have 25 or more male wrestlers.
For schools such as South Kitsap High, a stipend is awarded to the wrestling program if at least seven girls sign up for the team. The stipend agreement was implemented for the first time during the 2010-11 school year.
However, in his 15 years of coaching at South Kitsap, a total of five girls wrestled for the team, head coach Chad Nass said.
“We had between seven and 10 (girls) who were interested,” Nass said. “We ended up with a lot less.”
Other schools typically require at least seven students before considering creating a separate female team.
A co-ed sport
During his first match of the season at the Rainshadow Invitational, Brandon Dryden competed against a female.
Dryden, a Kingston High junior in the 125-pound weight class, was — at first — uncomfortable wrestling females.
“It’s kind of awkward,” Dryden said. “You don’t want to grab her in the wrong place.”
Dryden is one of the many males who practice with and compete against females. He won by pin in his first match of the season.
“If girls want to go out and compete, that’s fine,” Dryden said. “It’s really no big deal.”
Kingston sophomore Devon Jacob also found wrestling a female uncomfortable, but quickly became accustomed when he was assigned a female practice partner.
Jacob practices with Witt and sophomore Ivy Rodolf.
“I’d rather wrestle boys during practice,” Rodolf said. “That makes wrestling girls easier.”
Rodolf began wrestling after her brother, Freddy, a 215-pound wrestler at Kingston, brought her to an open-mat night the summer before she began high school.
After that night, “I was hooked,” she said.
During her first year she was thrown around the mat, she said. Accepting there is pain involved in the sport, she now takes each match as a learning experience.
“I just had to buck-up,” Rodolf said. “I have to wrestle the best I can; if I lose, I lose.”
While she makes sure to wrestle the best she can each match, Rodolf typically uses the matches against the boys as a learning experience. When facing a girl, she “takes it personally.”
When it comes to coaching Reece said coaches do not treat the girls on the team any differently than the boys. Reece sees girls become discouraged, but that discouragement does not last long.
Witt, Rodolf and Sonya Redbird, the three girls on the Kingston team, tend to learn from each other, Reece said.
“Those girls are a lot tougher than they were a few years ago,” Reece said.
Not a “sideshow”
Some of the more notable matches were between males and females in the past, said Scott Krone, the assigning secretary for the Peninsula Wrestling Officials Association.
Krone has officiated for 20 years for the area and said most girls seem to prefer to wrestle boys on the mat.
“I’ve seen boys leave wide-eyed after a match,” Krone said of unsuspecting boys being defeated.
The co-ed competition is changing, however.
For the first time, the males and females will be separated during the district tournaments.
This is an attempt to help establish more girls programs, Krone said.
“They want the girls to be a visible spectacle, instead of a sideshow,” he said.
Though this could help spark more female interest in the sport, it has the potential to create problems. To start, referees will need to be split between two separate venues, Krone said.
Coaches also face challenges.
Because coaches are assigned to groups of wrestlers regardless of gender, Reece said one coach will be required to break away from his usual group. This decision has to be made in less than four weeks before the district tournaments begin, he said.
Hiring a coach to specifically work with females on the team is something Kingston Athletic Director Dan Novick continues to do.
“We end up being in a bind in a supervision standpoint,” Novick said. “Who do you send?”
If a coach for a female team were hired, Novick believes more females would sign up for the team. However, with continuing budget cuts, it has been difficult to accomplish.
Before the winter sports season began, Rodolf said a few girls approached her about joining the team, but never followed through.
“I think it’s just an image thing,” Rodolf said. “You need to push yourself and just go for it … talk is cheap.”
Though creating a female-only team may help bring in more students to the wrestling programs, not everyone agrees that is the best choice.
“I wouldn’t join a female team,” Witt said. “I would rather be with my team.”