Pirates coach John White created Matanzas’ first all-girls wrestling team, which began its season on Dec. 5.
Leading up the 2018-19 school year, Matanzas High School never had a girls wrestling team. The few girls at the school who did want to wrestle had the choice to practice with and compete against boys or not wrestle at all. Only four girls joined the boys team over the course of three years.
Some of the girls on the team knew other girls at the school who were interested in wrestling, and other female students had approached White about wanting to wrestle — but not against boys.
White created Matanzas’ first all-girls wrestling team, which began its inaugural season on Dec. 5.
The girls team currently has 17 members, headlined by Makayla Wilder, who became the first female Matanzas wrestler to sign with a college team after the senior signed a National Letter of Intent to Brewton-Parker College onNov.9.
Wilder was the first girl to ever join Matanzas’ boys wrestling team.
“She is the one who started it all,” White said. “She’s been a good role model for the girls. She shows what it takes to place. She’s the standard. She’s what all of our girls are attempting to emulate.”
Wilder had been training to fight for more than two years prior to her arrival at Matanzas.
A student of both judo and jujitsu, Wilder picked up an interest in wrestling because of her coach at the time, who was a former wrestler.
She joined the Pirates’ boys wrestling team her freshman year. Training with and competing against boys was a daunting task at first.
“I was very nervous to start,” she said. “But I just trained a lot, worked hard and with my team’s help I was able to be better than what I thought I could be.”
However, on three separate occasions her freshman year, her male opponent wouldn’t wrestle her and forfeited the match. More often than not, however, her opponents didn’t care that she was a girl.
“They want to wrestle and don’t take it easy on you,” she said. “It’s cool because you get to wrestle at the same intensity as them.”
Girls wrestling is not currently sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Despite its growing popularity, there are no official teams or matches, and there’s no official state tournament.
An unofficial state tournament is held at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando every year. More than 300 girls attended the event last season.
“That’s one of the issues with girls wrestling right now,” White said. “If Florida would sanction it, we would see an explosion in girls wrestling.”
Although White has experience coaching girls — including his daughter, Riley White, a Matanzas sophomore who has wrestled for two years — he has never commanded an all-girls practice before this season.
It took some getting used to. In his experience, girls tend to wrestle differently than boys.
“They’re a lot more flexible. They tend to be a lot meaner,” he joked. “It’s just making adjustments with little things like that. I don’t treat them any different. They go just as hard as the boys, and I think that’s why a lot of my girls have success. I don’t treat them like girls. I treat them like wrestlers.”