Grayling wrestler takes 3rd place at new High School Girls Wrestling Finals
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Shelby Thomas, a wrestler at Grayling High School, recently finished her freshman season for the Vikings, and she placed 3rd at the Michigan Wrestling Association’s 2019 High School Girls Wrestling Finals at Adrian College.
Girls wrestling is a growing sport in Michigan (and the United States).
“Nationally, girls wrestling participation has nearly doubled since 2014 with more than 16,565 athletes competing during the 2017-18 season, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. (Michigan High School Athletic Association) member high schools reported 250 girls reported participating in wrestling last season,” according to the Michigan Wrestling Association.
The Michigan Wrestling Association’s High School Girls Wrestling Finals featured 14 weight classes – the same divisions as high school varsity wrestling – with girls from Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) member school teams.
Brad Duncan, one of the Grayling wrestling coaches who went to the state tournament, said the event featured “good sized brackets in every weight.”
“A lot of girls, which was awesome,” Coach Duncan said. “That was a really cool experience as a first time deal. It was cool. It was fun to be at.”
“It was an all-day affair. It was just like the MHSAA state finals, just a little smaller,” Coach Duncan said.
Thomas (125), during the Michigan High School Girls Wrestling Finals, had a bye in the first round. In the quarterfinals, according to trackwrestling.com, Thomas won by pin vs. an opponent from Manton. She lost by pin vs. a Lowell wrestler in the semifinals. In the match for 3rd/4th place, Thomas won by pin vs. a Byron Area opponent.
“The only loss she had was to the girl who won the weight class,” Coach Duncan said.
Thomas said her freshman season was difficult in the beginning.
“It was hard at first. I lost a lot. The guys were a lot bigger than they were in youth,” Thomas said.
Thomas said something clicked for her around the time of the team’s tournament at Shepherd. She started being more aggressive.
“After that, everything, it just clicked. It went better for me,” Thomas said.
Thomas said competing in the High School Girls Wrestling Finals at Adrian College was a great experience.
“I thought it was super cool,” she said. “Usually making it to high school states as a girl is super hard.”
In high school wrestling, wrestlers have to finish top four at individual districts to qualify for regionals, and they have to place in the top four at individual regionals to earn a place at the state finals.
At the all-girl state finals at Adrian College, female wresters from high school squads across the state competed, and people associated with the tournament reported strong turnout for the event. Thomas said some of the weight classes had multiple brackets due to the large number of wrestlers. She said it was a great environment, “super crowded,” filled with supportive fans.
“Especially in the finals match, it was super intense,” Thomas said. “I liked it.”
According to the Michigan Wrestling Association (MWA), the MHSAA was “a presenting sponsor for the (High School Girls Wrestling Finals), providing financial support, messaging, and signage.” MHSAA officials said the MWA “was in charge and did the hard work” with regard to the High School Girls Wrestling Finals.
Though the sport of girls wrestling is growing, Geoff Kimmerly of the MHSAA doesn’t expect it to be added as an official varsity sport in the near future, since the numbers aren’t there yet, but the MHSAA wants to continue to support the High School Girls Wrestling Finals.
“There absolutely is an opportunity to have this become an MHSAA-sponsored event in the future, and by sponsored, I mean we run the event under the full MHSAA banner, with our trophies/medals, etc. It’s difficult to see a separate girls wrestling season at this point; there isn’t enough participation at this time to fill out full line-ups for head-to-head team matches,” Kimmerly said. “But this event, as a girls-only event during a boys/girls wrestling season, could fit very well into the schedule just as it did this winter.”
“The MHSAA was excited to see so much interest and such great attendance at Adrian College. We anticipate girls wrestling continuing to grow, and with it this event as well. The MWA at this time will be hosting the event again next season, but we’re in conversations to figure out the future after that,” Kimmerly said.
Thomas agreed that all-girls wrestling as a varsity sport is probably still quite a few years away. She said the numbers of girls in the youth leagues are currently strongest at the youngest age groups.
Some colleges, including Adrian, have all-girls wrestling programs, and Thomas is thinking about continuing with the sport at the next level.
“It’s definitely one of my options,” she said.