By LYDIA BERGLAR
While the Dade County High School wrestling team has been co-ed for many years, this is the first year that the team has had multiple female wrestlers, with Head Coach Jeff Poston adding, “We’ve stacked up girls’ wins for the first time.”
Next year, the Lady Wolverines will have their own wrestling team as the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) transitions to a dual-gender sport. Poston explained, “GHSA is making it a dual-gender sport starting next year. Over the last several years, the association started the individual state tournament for girls. If you didn’t have enough girls for a full team, the girls could wrestle boys.”
This means that next year, girls will wrestle girls unless they declare at the start of the season that they want to wrestle boys for the entire season.
The four young women on this year’s team are Heidi Raines, Georgia Marter, Jerzee Crabtree, and Maleah Wilson. While Raines is a seasoned wrestler, the other three have also come to embrace the sport.
Wilson said she appreciates the team bonding. Crabtree enjoys learning something new and seeing individual success, saying, “I was nervous at first, but then we got into it and actually learned everything. It’s different from typical team sports because when you’re wrestling, it’s individual and you do whatever you can to improve yourself.”
Raines (who was featured in the Feb. 23, 2022 issue of the Sentinel) has been wrestling since she was seven. She is the first female Dade County wrestler to win a match at a state tournament. She’s also a two-time state champion in the girls division.
Marter enjoys paving the way for women in a sport that’s typically male-dominated. “Not a lot of girls wrestle, so I like showing girls that it’s not just all the boys. Wrestling is sometimes made to sound like it’s all boys, but it’s not. You just have to have the right mindset to do it.”
All four expressed appreciation for not only Poston’s coaching ability but also his fun-loving attitude. Crabtree said, “Coach Poston makes practice a lot of fun. He makes wrestling ten times better. When he’s here, we’re actually learning but we’re having fun while we’re doing it.”
While Wilson is new to competitive sports, Crabtree and Raines previously played volleyball and Marter competed in All Star Cheer. Poston explained that the skills from those sports translate well into wrestling. “If you can cheerlead and do all that tumbling, you’d be a great wrestler. A lot of these boys can do backflips. That flexibility and athletic ability is needed to wrestle.”
Poston believes that many girls would be surprised at how well they could wrestle if they decided to give it a try. The sport is not simply about brute strength. “There’s a lot of technique involved with it. Girls are better at learning technique than most boys because they pay attention,” Poston laughed.
Poston thinks that with a few years of growth, the female team will do well. “There are two or three girls on the middle school team right now and more girls in the rec program. Lots of girls in high school are interested. They were intimidated by it, but they’re seeing it’s not as bad as they thought it would be. Girls in the hallway tell me, ‘I want to wrestle next year.’ I’m hoping that we can double the numbers next year and maybe by the year after we’ll have a full 14 girls on the team.”
Over the weekend of Jan. 13, the team went to the first round of state. Poston explained, “We didn’t have enough girls to go to the girls team area because you need a minimum of eight girls. The girls went with the boys, and Heidi wrestled. She won her match, and the boys made it to the second round of state.”
When the Sentinel talked with the team and took photos, the athletes were excitedly telling each other, “Two weeks!” They were referring to the next competition on Feb. 3-4.
Poston explained, “In two weeks, it’s what’s called ‘traditional area,’ which is the individual portion. Girls will wrestle just girls. The top four from area go to sectionals, and the top six from sectionals go to the state tournament in Macon, Ga. on Feb. 16-18.”
Raines, Marter, Crabtree, and Wilson will all wrestle at area. Poston said, “They’re all in different weight classes, so there’s no issues there. I think Georgia has a pretty good shot of getting to sectionals. I haven’t seen anybody in Maleah’s weight class, so I don’t know.” Raines is also expected to do well.
The camaraderie among the team, as well as with the coaches, was evident as boys, girls, coaches, and athletes all joked, laughed, and warmed up for practice. Poston said, “They have a lot of fun. The boys cheer for the girls just like they cheer for the other guys.”