Senior citizens squeezed in among high school students. Cell phones and cameras were stuck on record. Elementary students shrieked in delight. The only thing to temporarily taper enthusiasm was the playing of the National Anthem. Then it was game on.
Ohio high school history visited Miami East High School on a frigid Wednesday night. It’ll be recorded as a 48-36 dual wrestling win by Columbus Olentangy Orange. What separates this meet from all the others since the Ohio High School Athletic Association first sanctioned the sport in 1938 is this was for girls only.
That’s rarefied company. Only two other girls dual meets had been held nationally.
“It was amazing,” gushed Miami East senior Camryn Miller, one of four Vikings to win by pin. “I’m positive the sport will grow. We have 17 new girls on our team; that’s how fast it’s growing.”
The Ohio High School Wrestling Association is counting on the OHSAA to take notice of that. Girls on boys wrestling teams are common nowadays. However, this is the first season for girls to have a team to call their own.
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No teams do that better than Miami East and Olentangy Orange. Both are guided by deep wrestling-rooted coaches: Miami East girls coach George Shore doubles as the USA Team Ohio coach. A spectator admiringly labeled him the Don King of girls wrestling, equal parts showman, entrepreneur and enthusiastic visionary.
Brian Nicola of Orange first coached girls wrestling 20 years ago and was enticed to return to the sport. They both embrace the opportunity to make gender history in their beloved sport.
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“They want to do things that other girls haven’t done before,” beamed Shore. “There are a lot of scholarships available for these girls. There are 60 colleges that offer (wrestling) scholarships for girls. We have quite a few college coaches in the house. We’re creating opportunities for the girls and everybody knows, education changes lives.”
At stake for girls wrestling is to become an OHSAA “emerging sport.” That’s the short route for sanctioning. The OHSWA was told it would need 250 girls to participate in the sport state-wide to get its attention. Shore said there are 459 girls wrestling in Ohio this season, representing 60-plus teams.
“We busted it open,” he said.
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Until then, girls teams like Miami East and Orange will be the sport’s banner-bearers. Both will participate in three girls-only invitationals this season and both will be team favorites at the first girls state tournament to conclude the season at Hilliard Davidson High School on Feb. 22-23. That meet, sponsored by the OHSWCA, is open to all girls with no qualifying meets.
According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, girls high school wrestling participation hit an all-time high of 16,562 in 2018. Thirteen other states already sponsor girls state tournaments.
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By comparison, the National Federation of State High School Associations listed 11,340 boys wrestlers in Ohio in 2017-18. That ranked No. 4 among all states that season.
Both teams were anchored by national-level standouts. Miami East junior Olivia Shore (111 pounds), George’s daughter, is a two-time USA World Team age-group member. Competing in Division III at 106, she became the first Ohio girl to win a state match last season.
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Orange had junior Taryn Martin at 126. She was a USA National Team member who competed in the most recent Pan Am Games. Both won by pin and both are tireless recruiters. Shore’s new teammates include Miller, the leading scorer on Miami East’s girls basketball team. Another is a gymnast.
“I went up to everyone and said is there anyone who wants to lay it out and try something new?” recalled Shore. “My team has heart for laying it out on the line for a brand new sport.”
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It was the same for Martin at Orange.
“Taryn brought three friends (to practice) and told them to bring a friend,” Nicola said. “Girls just started showing up.”
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Miami East athletic director Scott Donaldson ensured a charged atmosphere with a boys varsity dual meet against visiting Covington anchored on the other side of the gymnasium. That could be the new norm moving forward.
“Thirteen of my 14 combined weight classes had a combined record of zero wins and zero losses,” George Shore said. “We were absolutely straight out of the gate. I’m super proud of their effort. I’d say we’re more than ready to get sanctioned.”
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