Western coach Charlie Morgan has had five female wrestlers over his 11 years at the school.
Karolyn Sickles, his first and only four-year female wrestler, went on to compete for Davidson College’s men’s team before injuring her shoulder. During his tenure, Morgan has noticed a trend: girls with a background in contact sports.
“I treat them no different,” Morgan said. “They have the same expectations. I have to remind them that they are young ladies, though, around a bunch of boys.”
Yet weight, already a taboo subject among teenage girls, plays a prominent role in wrestlers’ lives. They must constantly watch what they eat in order to make their respective divisions. And unlike their male counterparts, the girls also must deal with feminine issues each month.
Bele, who used to weigh 150 pounds, now competes at either 126 or 132. She credits the sport for putting a positive spin on maintaining weight. She stays away from junk food such as ice cream.
This past weekend, the pair competed at the Girls’ High School Folkstyle Wrestling Tournament, which is not an FHSAA-sanctioned event. With 167 girls in attendance — up by 20 percent over previous years — Bele captured the title at 126 pounds.
Some high schools in the Orlando area, including Cypress Creek, field all-girl teams and hold tournaments. There are 12 weight classes, starting at 97 pounds and ending at 220. Generally, the lower the weight, the more girls listed in the class.
“Losing to a guy is OK because they can say ‘A guy beat you up,’ ” said Podesta, who had never wrestled a girl. “But if you lose to another girl, that’s a horrible feeling. It’s going to be way more intense. You don’t want to be weaker than another girl.”
Even so, the hope is the FHSAA will add girls’ wrestling as a separate sport. Stuart Mahler, vice chairman and national teams director of the Florida Amateur Wrestling Association Inc., doesn’t think “Florida’s that far away.”
Five states already offer girls’ varsity high school wrestling championships: Washington, California, Hawaii, Texas and Massachusetts. Tennessee will hold exhibitions this year, and Michigan might be next. In 2006, sophomore Michaela Hutchison from Alaska became the first girl in the nation to win a state wrestling title against boys.
“The problem is that most of the guys who are in charge of things are guys between 35 and 60 who still have ‘It’s a man’s world mentality,’ ” said Kent Bailo, director of the United States Girls’ Wrestling Association. “They don’t do anything unless they’re forced.”
Until then, Podesta will continue to wear hairnets, leading some to mistake her for a boy. Bele will continue to dye her pixie cut shades of blue before meets.
“I love when I’m wrestling against guys and there’s always moms,” said Bele, who is mulling offers from colleges such as Jamestown (N.D.). “It doesn’t matter if that’s their kid. They’ll cheer for me. ‘Go girl! I don’t know your name! Just pin him!’ ”