DENVER — From take downs to rowdy crowds, Saturday’s state wrestling championships at Thornton High School were action-packed. But as heated as things get on the mats, the competitors at this tournament are a special community.
“Really, we all just support each other,” says Loveland junior Audrey Bankes, who placed second in the 118-lb. weight class. “We have way more fun and are joking around with each other more than the boys do. It’s just a community of wrestlers, we all want each other to do well, honestly.”
For this community, Saturday’s event was an important one. It was the first recognized state tournament for girls wrestling in Colorado.
“The fan base is obviously very passionate,” says CHSAA assistant commissioner Ernie Derrera. “You can tell just tell by looking at the crowd. The girls have worked really hard to get to this point.”
The growth of the sport is just beginning locally, and the goal is to have girls wrestling fully sanctioned by CHSAA in 2020. Nationally, Colorado is one of 12 states that features girls wrestling as a sport. This movement started two years ago with a tournament in January 2017.
“We had 84 girls participate from 40 or 41 schools at that time,” Derrera says. “It’s grown from that point to now, where we have 300 girls this year from 114 different schools.”
The girls are just now getting their own tournaments, but many have spent years putting in countless hours of training for the sport they love.
“In the morning, I wake up and have between 5-10 miles, and then a lift and conditioning,” says Douglas County junior Tristan Kelly, who has competed internationally in the sport. “Then, at night, from 4 to 6 p.m., I have a mat practice with the boys, usually. I’m really excited that girls wrestling in Colorado is growing and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
After years of having to fight their way through the boys tournaments, female wrestlers in Colorado are finally getting a league of their own.
“Usually, you’re under the shadow of the boys,” Bankes says. “It’s like the boys tournament with the girls. To have something that’s all our own, it’s incredible.”