Helen Maroulis believes that among the 200-plus girl wrestlers who have converged on Stillwater this week, at least one of them will be the next great female wrestler for the United States.

Or better yet, a trailblazer just like herself.

Maroulis became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in women’s freestyle at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, but there is another first to be had for women’s wrestling in this country – Division I college wrestling.

“I definitely think that with this group of girls, and with the level of women’s wrestling right now, the next future Olympic champion – or hopefully a future NCAA Division I champion – are all out there right now,” Maroulis said. “That’s exciting.”

Maroulis is one of five female senior wrestlers serving as clinicians for the first-ever Sunkist Kids Girls Only Camp being hosted at Stillwater High School – including decorated World Team members Maya Nelson, Kayla Miracle, Dom Parrish and Forrest Molinari.

The idea for the camp – which is utilizing the Oklahoma State dorms directly across from Gallagher-Iba Arena – was somebody all too familiar with Stillwater and its role in wrestling.

Two-time national champion Mark Perry Jr., older brother of two-time national champion Chris Perry and son of two-time All-American Mark Perry Sr., is the head coach of the Sunkist Kids Regional Training Center that hosted the camp. He was also the personal coach for Maroulis and Miracle at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

“It’s about acceptance, awareness. This is happening,” Perry said. “… I really believe women’s wrestling will sell very, very well globally if there was awareness and people got to know the athletes.”

Maroulis said she remembers it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she ever got to interact with a female wrestler on America’s World team. This camp, along with the recent surge of women’s wrestling at the younger level, is helping bridge that gap at an earlier age.

The camp wasn’t just full of high school girls trying to get a competitive edge in one of the 26 states that had sanctioned high school girls’ wrestling as of 2021. There were also elementary-aged wrestlers who made the trip to Stillwater to get an earlier start on their wrestling careers.

“There were parents like, ‘My daughter was begging me to bring her here, and she’s five or six.’ You’re thinking, ‘How do they even know what you’re doing in this sport at that young of an age?’” Maroulis said. “But they do. They’re good. They’re working hard. They pay attention to it, and they want to learn.”

Leading the clinic during Wednesday afternoon’s session was Miracle, a 2021 World silver medalist.

She made a moment for one of the youngest campers at the clinic when showing how the wrestlers need to avoid allowing an opponent to turn their hips while trying to expose the opponent’s back in freestyle. The younger camper turned her hips to take control while Miracle’s back was on the mat. The other senior clinicians jokingly slapped the mat to signify a pin.

The young camper looked to the group of 200 wrestlers with a smile and joked how she had pinned a World silver medalist – which drew a roar of laughter.

Following Wednesday’s afternoon session, around 30 of the campers also took advantage of a unique opportunity only possible in Stillwater. The doors to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum were held open past normal hours to allow them to wander the halls – and get a bit of a history lesson from NWHOF Executive Director Lee Roy Smith on the growth of women’s wrestling since its first World Wrestling Championships in 1989.

Naturally, the campers gravitated towards the women’s wrestling exhibits.

Several took photos of the plaques of recently enshrined Distinguished Members Clarissa Chun and Sara McMann – the first time the NWHOF has inducted more than one female wrestler in a single class. They also gathered around the etching of Maroulis in the corner of the hall for those who have won Olympic gold but have not been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“It’s funny what excites little kids like, ‘Oh my gosh, I saw your picture on the wall’ or they’ll come up and show me a picture from a camp you did like five years ago – and they look totally different because they’ve had a growth spurt,” said Maroulis prior to the campers visiting the Hall of Fame. “What they remember, and what sticks out for them, you always want that to be a positive experience, so the Hall of Fame is amazing.”

Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State and high school athletics.

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