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Girls join Oak Harbor High School wrestling family

Brittany Johnson, top, and Jennifer Fremd are two of the seven girls on this year
Brittany Johnson, top, and Jennifer Fremd are two of the seven girls on this year's Oak Harbor High School wrestling team.
— image credit: Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times

“Brotherhood.”

A ironic word choice considering the speaker is a female member of the Oak Harbor High School wrestling squad describing the team’s sense of family and the acceptance of girls into the realm of a macho sport.

For the first time, Oak Harbor has a girls wrestling “team.” Technically, all of the grapplers, male and female, are one squad. However, Oak Harbor has seven girls and that constitutes a team according to the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association. Now the Wildcats can score team points and win the female divisions of district, regional and state competitions.

A girl or two has peppered the Oak Harbor roster over the years, but never has the team had such a large turnout.

The girls include Kylene Ayer, Desiree Dillaman, Jennifer Fremd, Brittany Johnson, Bailey Martinez and Brittney Peppel.

Fremd is the veteran of the group, having wrestled two years in middle school and two in high school. She was Oak Harbor’s only female wrestler last winter and qualified for the state tournament.

Peppel wrestled last year in middle school; for the rest, it’s a new adventure.

The bump in interest by girls just happened. The girls decided individually to try out; there was no recruiting according to head coach Mike Crebbin.

Ayer said she turned out because “it’s a competition thing.” She added, “I wanted to prove I am strong enough to do it; it’s not just a boys’ sport.”

Dillaman said she was a cheerleader and wanted to shed the “girlie girl” image.

Johnson said she joined because she “wanted to get in better shape” to help reach her goal of becoming a Marine.

The reaction of their choice of sports received mostly positive reviews.

Ayer said, “A lot of people don’t believe it.”

Dillaman said the response she received was “that’s so cool -- I’m jealous.”

They all said their friends are excited to watch them compete.

And their families’ reactions?

Johnson said, “My mom doesn’t want me to get hurt.”

Ayer said, “My mom was proud; the others said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’”

Peppel said, “My mom didn’t think I would finish.”

The girls called the team “a family,” and said the boys aren’t upset with the female invasion.

Ayer said, “They are excited to have a girls team.”

Fremd added, “They see it as special.”

Crebbin said that the boys don’t have a problem wrestling girls: “They treat them as teammates; they don’t treat them any differently. There are so many girl wrestlers now, it’s not an issue.”

He added, “Any coach wants kids who want to work hard and learn, regardless of gender.”

The girls said that it was a little awkward at first and that some of the boys would stop wrestling and apologize if they felt they touched them inappropriately.

Peppel said, “It’s wrestling, not groping.”

The girls like how wrestling physically tests them.

Ayer said, “Sometimes we try to ‘overstrength’ them.” She added that the boys are usually stronger, but the girls can be competitive because of “technique and flexibility.”

Ayer said, “The boys are really helpful. Any of them with wrestling experience will help anyone else, boy or girl.”

Fremd said, “There is a sense of family. We all (boys and girls) help each other because we are a family. We all sweat together, we work together.”

Crebbin said the girls are some of his team’s hardest workers: “The boys see the girls working hard and it motivates them.”

Crebbin purposely put his team through a particularly punishing workout earlier this year to see how they would handle the physical and mental stress. He said, “Some of the girls lasted longer than some of the guys.”

He noted that a higher percentage of girls than boys attend the optional morning workouts, and the girls also routinely stay after practice to get extra instruction.

Volunteer coach Hillary Liebman is a value resource for the Oak Harbor girls. When she began wrestling in Monroe in 2000, girls were new to the sport and less welcome.

Liebman said, “I had very few people cheering in my corner and had plenty of parents, students and teachers trying to bring me down and get me off the team.”

She said because of her experience, she can help the Oak Harbor girls deal with “discrimination, rudeness, and defeat,” as well as teach them technique that is most effective for girls and will work toward their strengths.

Liebman said the boys treat the girls well because each one is a wrestler and not “just another girl.” She added, “In a wrestling room, you always have to earn your right of respect. It is rarely ever given, and this is multiplied with girls.”

As of Wednesday, all of the girls (except an injured Dillaman) had wrestled one match and all faced boys. Crebbin said the Oak Harbor girls don’t have their own team schedule because so few schools have girls. The Wildcats go to JV tournaments most weekends and some feature female divisions. All post season tournaments will be divided by gender.

Brotherhood? Sisterhood? Nah, just wrestlers.

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