School wrestling provided me with a sense of stability I did not have at home. I grew up with a single mom in Nevada. My mom struggled with addiction and was often absent. My wrestling coaches were the first adults to encourage me to go to college. I painted numbers on sidewalks to pay the fees. I became the first in my family to attend college. Wrestling helped me overcome many of the challenges of my childhood.

As a freshman in high school, I was already an accomplished young wrestler with two junior high state championships under my belt; I was age 14 and in the lighter weight class. Like other boys on the team, I wanted to fit in with the older, varsity wrestlers.

When a girl tried out for the wrestling team, the junior and senior wrestlers laughed as they were uneasy. They encouraged me to “show her what wrestling is really all about,” hint, hint. Being of similar weight and wanting my teammates approval, I showed her no mercy on the wrestling mat.

Though our coach was supportive of her, she did not stick around as the boy wrestlers did not accept her being there. At the time, we believed she chose to quit because she did not want to wrestle. Retrospectively, I know now that her quitting had less to do with what she wanted and more to do with how we made her feel.

The idea of wrestling a woman made us uncomfortable. It was not something we had experienced before, and we did not know how to act. We made her feel as though she did not belong — that there was no place for women in wrestling. Over the years I grew to regret my actions on the wrestling mat that day. I wished I would have encouraged her and introduced her to the sport slowly like we do as coaches with all wrestlers now.

When I wrestled at Arizona State University, I trained with several legendary groundbreaking female wrestlers who are now in the wrestling hall of fame. We taught them technique and trained alongside each other on the famed Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club. At the time, their success in wrestling was unprecedented. There was resistance from the wrestling culture, and this discouraged women from wrestling. As a result, many women were pushed out of wrestling.

I spent my summers in college teaching wrestling camps throughout the West. There was a group of girls who traveled with each camp to train every day. They showed up eager to learn and we were excited to share our sport with them. We taught them technique daily and wrestled live with them nightly. They never missed a day of training. Their dedication to building this emerging sport was amazing. Several of them became world champions.

When I became a wrestling coach at Century High School, I made a goal to start the first girls wrestling team. We started with six girls and two competed competitively. I saw the boys on the wrestling team learn how to empower and lift up their girl teammates.

In the beginning of this season while teaching the girls their stance and motion and how to contact the opponent, it was truly a shock to them to be jabbed and pushed in this way. However, they quickly adapted, loved it and often led the team in intensity. In starting the girls program this year, glass ceilings were shattered. We saw Century High School’s first girls wrestling match, first loss, first win and first pin!

I was moved emotionally when coaching our Century Girls at the District Championships, the boys were supposed to be off for the weekend yet most of them showed up in support to watch their TEAMMATES. Times have changed when compared to my freshman year in high school. Perhaps one of my motivations in starting the team was to relieve myself of guilt from giving into peer pressure at age 14, but I think that is only a small piece. I started the program because it is time. Girls need an equal opportunity to learn the art of wrestling. I am calling upon Century High School to recruit us 30 new girls so that we can catapult the Century girls team into a dynasty.