Yorkville—Three girls from the A-J Junior Wildcats Wrestling Club were recently part of a historic event in Illinois wrestling: the first ever Illinois Girls Folkstyle State Championship.
Featuring 100 of the top female grade school, junior high and high school wrestlers from around the state, the day started with a training session and motivational talk with Team USA member Adeline Gray. By the end of the day, Gray had signed a multitude of autographs for her young fans on notebooks, bracket boards, shoes, duffle bags and pretty much anything a marker would work on.
“No matter how much time you put in with your female wrestlers, when you have someone of Adeline Gray’s stature in the room you are immediately upstaged,” joked club president Rollie Hawk. “But in a good way. There’s just instant credibility.”
“When these girls are adults, a lot of them will be coaching their own teams but for now getting coached by a woman with wrestling experience is a special thing.”
The A-J Junior Wildcats were represented by six-year-old Zoee Sadler, eight-year-old Madilyn Hawk and twelve-year-old Catie Mays. A-J had five girls on their roster this year, a point of pride for the squad.
“You don’t run into many teams with more than one or two girls. The fact that we had five girls come out and join our club this year says a lot about what we’re doing,” said Hawk. “One had a non-wrestling injury and another couldn’t make the trip but we were proud to have three girls able to come to Yorkville to represent not only our club but our region.”
One of the difficulties of girls-only tournaments is that as the sport is being built, the age ranges have to be flexible. As a result, eight-year-old Hawk wrestled girls of ten and eleven and Mays, normally in the novice division, wrestled girls normally in the senior division.
Both girls finished third in their respective brackets.
“As we remind our girls, it’s the pioneers that take the arrows. What they are doing here today is going to make all the difference for girls in the coming years,” added Hawk. “Not every girl wants to cheer or play basketball in the winter; girls like Madi, Catie and Zoee are giving those girls another option.”
“I don’t know if they have any idea how big the things they are doing right now really are in the grand scheme of girl’s athletics.”
Six-year-old Sadler finished at the top of her bracket and as a result won a paid entry into the national championship and a Team Illinois singlet. All three girls would be qualifiers for the girls folkstyle nationals in Oklahoma City and will likely wrestle in the Illinois Girls Freestyle State Championship this summer.