ALBION — Sophomore Kieandra DeWitt is Central Noble’s only female wrestler. This being her first season playing the sport, she’s still getting her bearing on the mat.
But hard work, sportsmanship and self-esteem aren’t new to her at all.
Monday practices start out with dynamic stretches and warmups, plus sprints, of which DeWitt pushes herself to race against teammates.
This kind of competitive spirit comes naturally to DeWitt, who also is a track sprinter and plays soccer.
She mused before practice that most of the boys she competes against have been wrestling since they were in kindergarten, but she holds her own when it comes to work ethic.
“My dad thinks so, because they don’t like losing sprints to a girl,” she said.
But that’s not to say DeWitt and her teammates hold animosity toward each other.
She jokes with the boys on her team while they lace up their wrestling shoes and strap on headgear. They call her Kie, pronounced “key,” just like all of her friends do.
That level of acceptance is starting to show up more not just at Central Noble, but nationwide, as wrestling spectators can expect to see more girls on the mat in coming seasons.
Girls and women’s wrestling is “one of the fastest growing sports” in the country, according to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
Last year, 16 states had high school state associations with sanctioned girls divisions, too.
Although Indiana is not one of them, girls-only wrestling tournaments take place across the state, with 2017 being the inaugural year for the Indiana High School Girls Wrestling State Finals.
In fact, DeWitt competed in an all-girls meet this month. She noticed they wrestle a little differently than her male competitors.
“Girls are a lot more aggressive,” she said.
However, respect for girls wrestling, as with all women’s athletics, isn’t always shown. DeWitt said in a recent meet, the boy she was about to face laughed when he noticed he was about to go up against a girl.
“It makes me really angry,” she recalled, but said that it just fueled her to wrestle more intensely.
But, she knows facing this scrutiny is helping her grow as a person, and she said she usually lets comments like that “roll off.”
Her friends don’t judge her for wrestling, though, and her dad is especially encouraging of her, since he, as a former high school wrestler himself, originally suggested she try it.
For now, DeWitt said she plans on bettering herself and continuing to ask Cougars coach Spencer Richter for more time on the mat.