Wrestle like a girl: Class looks to get girls into sport

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BENNINGTON — As other high school sports continue to have declining participation numbers, girls wrestling is one of a few trending in a positive direction.

Twelve states now have girls varsity state tournaments, as opposed to just co-ed ones with the boys.

Jen Gardner is hoping to capitalize on that growth.

Gardner, the mother of Mount Anthony rising senior and wrestler Logan Sprague, has started a program for girls from ages 4 to 18 to learn the sport and take advantage of the immense growth.

"Numbers in the [Catamount] club have gone down a little bit, with other sports and kids just not getting involved," said Gardner shortly after a practice at the club on Pleasant Street. "Girls wrestling has taken off around us, in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island. So I figure I got to start somewhere."

She said she talked to MAU varsity wrestling coach Brian Coon to get his thoughts and he was hesitant at first, wondering if there would be enough interest. As soon as Gardner put the information on Facebook, that question was answered with a resounding yes.

"I've had a number of inquiries, kids were definitely interested, I'm looking probably at 20 kids overall this summer," Gardner said.

The trend for girls wrestling has continually grown since the mid-1990s. According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the number of girls wrestling in high school in 2018 was nearly 17,000 and 12 states, including Massachusetts, sponsor a state high school championship for the girls.

"Wrestling in Bennington, Vermont, has always been huge and all these states are getting into girls wrestling from the bottom up, so I decided, why not just try it?" Gardner said.

Gardner said she knows most of the basics of the sport and some of the advanced tactics, but she's also had some of the MAU wrestlers in to teach as well.

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"The [younger kids] see the [wrestlers] when they go to the matches and they can learn from those kids," Gardner said. "They'll come back once the school year gets over."

Ali Lanteigne's daughter, Callie Winchell, is 4, and has attended all the practices, which take place from 6 to 7 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday nights at the club.

"It was definitely easy, we've known Jen through [Mount Anthony wrestling]," Lanteigne said. "Callie was so excited because Jen was going to do it and it was going to be just the girls, girls her size."

Lanteigne, whose brother is MAU rising senior Sam Wilkins, said they have also talked about former Mount Anthony state champion Rachel Hale as a role model.

"She wanted to be like Sam," Lanteigne said. "But we told her how well Rachel did against the boys, that girls can wrestle the boys and you don't have to a boy to wrestle. Rachel is an example of someone she can be like."

Along with assistant Kristin Surdam, Gardner said she'd like to get some of the female wrestlers from the area, including Hale, Zoe Gress and Katie Weeden from Hoosick Falls and possibly Sarah Barker, the varsity wrestling coach at Burr and Burton, to help it grow.

"Maybe they could do a one-day clinic or whatever," Gardner said.

Gardner said that kids can be signed up for this session up until June 30 and that they are still looking for older kids, middle and high school age, to take part in the class.

"I'm looking to do a winter session as well, and maybe some in the late winter or early spring," Gardner said.

For more information about the class, contact Gardner at 802-688-8913 or on Facebook.


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