By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A sport historically dominated by men saw women competitors from across the nation step to the mat and put on a show for those in attendance at the U.S. World Team Trials in Gallagher-Iba Arena Friday.
Among the matches was 2013 world champion in the 67 kg class Adeline Gray taking on Oklahoma City University wrestler Brittany Roberts in the championship match of the 72 kg class. Gray defeated Roberts, taking home the championship in a new weight class.
She described the reaction she receives from fans after watching her compete.
“I haven’t gotten to talk to a lot of fans, but just the people I see in the parking lot come up to me and are like, ‘Hey, nice match. Good to see you, you looked great out there. You’re very pretty,’” Gray said. “I’m just like, ‘Thanks, I’ve been working on my hair.’ But it’s been really great. It was exciting to see women’s wrestling being accepted more throughout the country. We work just as hard as these amazing male athletes.”
Leroy Burroughs, father of accomplished wrestler and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, echoed the sentiment.
“I think it’s good for the sport,” he said. “They compete tough. A lot of the women matches are more competitive than the men’s matches.”
He said seeing many women competitors on the mat has taken longer to achieve because of those who don’t know or watch wrestling.
“They wouldn’t understand,” he said. “The average person who doesn’t watch wrestling would think this is no place for a woman to be.”
Although he admits it’s not commonplace yet to see many women in the sport.
“I don’t think it’s common at all,” Burroughs said. “Women who participate in wrestling, their brothers wrestled or somebody in their family wrestled or nine out of 10 times, they wouldn’t have been exposed to wrestling.”
But in the end, there is no difference, he said.
“Matches are matches,” he said. “Both (men and women) are real competitive. I get just as much out of watching the women as the men.”
Wrestling fan Kim Schlittler of Oklahoma City said she has enjoyed seeing participation grow and evolve.
“My first women’s match that I saw was down in Texas on the college level and they made the women kind of sissy fight, in my opinion, and I really hated seeing that,” she said.
However, that has changed now, she said. Schlittler said they bring the same competitive spirit and physicality for which the sport is known.
“What they bring to the table is showing that women can compete in the oldest sport known to man and show that they can compete at a level that’s going to gain, especially, any wrestling fan’s attention,” she said.
Schlittler said she took in many exciting matches at the competition Friday.
“I really felt a sense of pride for them and also for women to go out there because the whole crowd was watching them and really got into the match,” Schlittler said. “It was just really exciting.”