“I get picked on a lot for being a girl and wrestling. I’ve had girls approach me and say I just do it to be around guys. They just don’t understand.”
Sophomore Kiersten Higgs, La Plata High School’s first female wrestler, breaks a long-held stigma within wrestling. The male-dominated sport has seen glimmers of successful females in recent years; however this will be the first for the very perennial Southern Maryland Wrestling Program at La Plata.
This year brings something new to the table, a change of pace in the wrestling program and a positive attitude from her male cohorts. Senior and varsity wrestler, David Pipes, says “we accept her as one of us. She’s not treated any differently just because she’s a girl!” Higgs has been wrestling almost her entire life, this being a rare commodity in the wrestling community, she has the dignifying opportunity to be a stepping stone for ambitious future-female wrestlers.
In the beginning of her wrestling adventures, Higgs explained “the first year was really bad, with all the matches I had, I had only won one. [A] big part of all of this started when I wrestled this boy and he slammed me on the ground and said to me ‘that’s why girls shouldn’t wrestle’, and that made me really mad.”
All of her life she has fought through family and academic challenges. Higgs has felt disconnected from her mother and father throughout her wrestling career. Although her mother is supportive, Higgs said “[she] acts more as a friend than a mom.” By comparison, her father is the polar opposite. With a gender-conscious state of mind and strict agenda for [her], Higgs battles with both sides. She [Higgs] has had to be an independent kid, more-so than her peers and unlike most people, she used it as a motivation instead of a hindrance.
Head wrestling Coach John Pankhurst was pleasantly surprised when finding out that Kiersten would be trying out. “I’ve coached for 11 years total and four of those years have been as a wrestling coach. I’ve had girls on my teams before, but this is the first for wrestling.”
Pankhurst went on to talk about how “Maryland has had a history for successful female wrestlers. If you Google Helen Maroulis of Maryland, you’ll see just what I mean.” The 23-year-old Maroulis of Rockville, MD has been quite successful in the sport of wrestling. Winning a gold medal in the Pan-American games and a silver medal in the World Wrestling Championships held in Canada, she is a great role model for any upcoming female wrestler.
“Having the mental motivation to do it, allows you to work hard and build the skills, techniques, and strategies necessary to succeed,” Pankhurst continued, “It’s a lot easier to teach a move than to teach want; and with Kiersten’s talent and good foundation, I think she’ll do good this season.”
With the season just starting off, there’s a lot of work to be done and talent to hone back in since the off-season, Pankhurst said. Earlier in the season, Kiersten suffered a major concussion, after a match where she hit head on head with her competition. This caused massive injuries and some temporary confusion in the weeks ahead. “Now we’re just trying to get her healthy again before our first meet.” Wrestlers and the student body alike have high hopes for the season this year, for some, it’s their last one; for Kiersten, it is just the beginning.