A Competition Worth Fighting
Inaugural tournament offers girls wrestling opportunities
"Watch your ankle! ... Walk it, walk it ... head up!"
At the sound of the whistle, the Pearl City Chargers' varsity wrestling coach, Cedric Yogi, blared out pointers from the sidelines to his 114-pound wrestler Kacie Prado.
Just one of five simultaneous matches, the two-minute face-off between Prado and Maui High School's Ashley Mae Bumatay went by in a flash. First lingering with a head-to-head deadlock, the matchup quickly picked up speed with a sequence of quick tactical pulls, pushes and lunges before swiftly ending with a final takedown to the mat. After signaling the end of their first match, the ref raised Bumatay's arm in victory.
"I did my best, and that's all I can do," said Prado after the match, a sentiment reflecting one of the many goals for the inaugural 2010 Punahou Invitational Girls Wrestling Challenge.
Held at Hemmeter Fieldhouse on Nov. 26 and 27, The Challenge united the largest number of high-school girl wrestlers in Hawai'i. As one of the fastest growing girls sports in the nation, wrestling is increasingly thought of as a viable athletic outlet for girls. The Challenge aimed to continue that momentum by providing girls with meaningful and equally matched opportunities while fostering girls wrestling in the state. More than 250 girls filled the gym, including starters and nonstarters from 23 schools and sport leagues across the islands. Girls were sorted by weight, from 98 to 225 pounds, and division, with "A" consisting of returning state qualifiers and "B" through "D" indicating varying levels of experience. With close-to-perfect matchups, all the girls had wrestling time.
Punahou parents Mark Haworth '79, Troy Egami '80, David Lundquist '68, Natalie Taniguchi and Layne Yamada '80 initiated The Challenge, a first for the state of Hawai'i, in answer to the relative lack of wrestling opportunities for girls. The unique preseason tournament became a reality with help from Punahou's Athletic Department, coaches, volunteers and parents, and with support from Na Wahine Pa'ani 'o Punahou, an organization that helps enhance girls athletic programs at Punahou.
While Lundquist pointed out there's no shortage of girl wrestlers, he also noted there is a smaller pool of competitors because public and private schools compete in separate leagues, and neighbor island teams face even more difficulty because of the need to travel. These realities reduce mat time, and result in many matches ending in forfeit because of insufficiently represented weight classes. Tournament winners often head into state championships with inadequate competitive experience.
Punahou wrestling coach Matt Oney added that Punahou girl wrestlers have about 60 percent fewer opportunities to wrestle than boys. Girl wrestlers average about 20 matches within a season, sometimes facing the same opponent three to five times.
Nicole Taniguchi, an All-American wrestler and Punahou junior, was thankful for the event, saying, "Having a girls tournament not only gives us extra mat time and the feeling of a competition, but it gives us a chance to bond as a girls team, and girls only."
Wrestling calls for an intense level of focus, requiring swift footwork, strategic planning and a high level of cardiovascular stamina and muscular strength – all at the same time. For young girls, the sport also builds self-confidence, a trait Danyelle Hedin believes can take young wrestlers far beyond high-school wrestling. Hedin, a 2004 Kailua High School graduate, three-time Hawai'i state champion, and recipient of several national titles, including Junior World Champion, ran an afternoon wrestling clinic before The Challenge. She not only shared offensive techniques, but encouraged the girls to continue, "Since women's wrestling is still a young sport, there are great opportunities to wrestle in college and travel the world."
Noting the benefits of wrestling, Taniguchi also offered a word of advice: "Although technique is important, being physical and aggressive are usually the determining factors of a match. A successful wrestler can't settle for being mediocre; the best wrestler is always striving to improve."
Parents Robin and Denny Sebala believe in the sport's ability to help develop qualities children need in life. It's one of the reasons why all six of their children, girls and boys, participate in wrestling and judo. The Sebalas' Campbell High School daughter Keani, a junior who has been wrestling since the seventh grade, advanced in The Challenge and placed 5th in the 130-pound weight class in the "A" division. As the Sebalas rooted for Keani, they said, "It's a great sport, and we're very happy that Punahou is having this tournament."
By Melissa Torres-Laing