At a school where the sport of wrestling is nearly religion, Rebecca Magart is trodding hallowed ground.
Magart has become Deer Park High’s first female wrestler and is one of two competing in the Northeast A League. She and Freeman’s Bobbi Donnelly both compete in the 115-pound weight class.
Magart’s decision to turn out for wrestling was generally accepted by coaches and teammates. She did, however, encounter resistance from some other students.
“The wrestlers don’t care, really,” said Nathan Turner, a 108-pounder who practices with Magart.
“At first we didn’t know if we could use certain moves because she’s a girl. Coach (Dean) Largent told us to treat her like anyone else.”
Other students at Deer Park weren’t as generous.
“The only thing that was discouraging was an article in the school newspaper,” the articulate Magart said.
The essence of the article was that wrestling is for guys and that girls should keep away.
“It was very negative, and some of the things said were untrue,” she said.
Magart didn’t let public opinion change her mind. She views wrestling as a challenge, not a cause.
“She’s not a typical female wrestler,” Largent said of the sophomore. “She’s one of the hardest workers in the room, is a straight-A student and a real good athlete.”
Magart began playing basketball in third grade and was starting point guard on the Stag junior varsity last year before tiring of it. She also plays volleyball and is considering tennis in the spring.
Last summer she tried wrestling at the encouragement of a junior high coach and has read literature about its future for women.
Colleges are looking at it as possibly a way to ensure that men’s wrestling won’t be eliminated for budgetary and Title IX reasons.
There have been U.S women’s championships, and the sport is gaining international popularity.
“In high school wrestling there are usually freshmen at the lower weights,” said Magart, who is on the school’s junior varsity squad. “If a girl wrestles and keeps with it, she will stay at those weights.”
Magart’s mother reluctantly supported her decision to try wrestling. Her father and sister were against it.
“My dad was a wrestler in high school and didn’t like the idea. At first he was pretty upset,” said Magart.
“My sister said, ‘No, you’re not wrestling guys.’ When I turned out, Mom and I kept it secret.”
Since then, her father and sister have come around. One night he entered Magart’s room and asked if she was working on her wrists and grip.
“That told me he accepted it,” she said. “J.J.’s (her sister) OK about it now.”
Magart knows there are those who question the propriety of boys grappling with a girl on a mat.
“That was one of the things in the article,” she said. “But I’m out there the same as they and have to worry about putting my hands in certain places, too.”
And she knows she is at a disadvantage as a novice in an unfamiliar masculine venue.
“My goals are nothing big yet,” she said. “I’m expected to lose this year; everybody does. Some freshmen boys last year went through the year getting creamed.”
She said she is not quick enough off the start, is way behind the guys in terms of executing moves, and must become stronger.
But Magart insists this is no flight of fancy. She said her motivation is to show that she can wrestle like anyone else and plans to stick with it.
Last week in her second match, her opponent used a variety of moves to pin her with 23 seconds remaining in the first round. Magart gamely struggled to avoid the inevitable.
“I held on a minute longer than in the first match,” she said, “which means I’m doing better.”
“Little victories along the way,” was how the supportive Largent viewed her effort.
“If hard work has anything to do with it, she will succeed,” he said.
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