Less than six months after Becca Longo made national headlines for signing her National Letter of Intent to Adams College, two more Chandler Unified School District students are breaking down more gender stereotypes in sports.
Camry Carter and Alexis Peterson, eighth-grade students at Casteel Junior High School, 24901 S. Power Road in Queen Creek, are the first female athletes to make the school’s wrestling team.
“She (Camry) started in our wrestling right at the end of the school year last year,” Coach Bob Callison said. “She cheerleads and I have a daughter that cheerleads and I have always said, coming from Mountain View where I used to coach, that some of our best athletes were cheerleaders.”
Lexi has participated in Brazilian jui-jitsu for six years, since she was 7 years old, she said.
“She just started here the last two months,” Coach Callison said. “So sometimes that sport (Brazillian jui-jitsu) can be conflicting just because they can give up their backs, they can put their backs on the mat. But the good thing is she has good body awareness and good mat awareness.”
Coach Callison said having the girls on his team has been an asset to each other.
“It’s good to have them in here together. They push each other,” Coach Callison said. “It’ll be fun to watch them.”
Being females in what is typically a male-dominated sport has challenged the girls.
“When I first came here I didn’t know anything about wrestling,” Camry said. “Now that I’ve been doing it for a couple months and I know all the basics, it was hard being the only girl until Lexi joined.”
“There’s just this stereotype that girls can’t be wrestlers because it’s a boy sport and the girls aren’t strong enough and can’t handle wrestling with guys,” Lexi said. “I’d tell them first of all that’s not true. I tell guys these sports aren’t just for guys, they’re for girls too. We can do what you guys can do.”
Most of the reaction from classmates has been positive, the girls said.
“Most of them are kind of shocked that there are girl wrestlers,” Camry said. “It’s pretty cool being one of the only girls (wrestlers) at Casteel.”
Lexi said that there have been one or two negative comments, but she hasn’t let it affect her.
“I’m doing what I love. Nothing is going to stop me,” she said.
Eighth-grade team member Tristan Tullberg said that he often hears people say girls can’t wrestle.
“I’m like, that makes no sense,” Tristan said. “The only reason is if they’re not good at it. And if they’re not good at it, teach them, help them learn.
“I pretty much snap at them and say ‘Girls can do a lot of things that you can’t do so I would watch your mouth around girls,’” he said.
Word that there are two girls on the team hasn’t spread much beyond the girls’ friends though.
“Not a lot of the school knows about the girl wrestlers,” Camry said. “It’s really just friends that we tell or the boys’ friends.”
Lexi said most of her friends thought it was really cool.
“It’s cool to see their expressions because I know I am doing something that I love,” she said.
Camry originally joined the team because her sixth-grade brother signed up for wrestling.
“I wanted to do it because you don’t see many girl wrestlers,” she said. “And I wanted to try the sport.”
Coach Callison said the boys on the team treat the girls like any other athlete.
“I’ve told them even though we’re girls, I don’t want you to go half-way,” Lexi said.
Sergio Ramos, an eighth-grade member of the team, said he sees the girls as just two more members of the team.
“It’s good to see that,” Coach Callison said. “They’re doing the same workouts. They just go to a different locker room. Other than that, they’re in here battling just like the boys do.”
And those workouts are Camry’s favorite part.
“I like that it’s a team sport but you condition together and practice together, but on the mat, it’s all you,” she said. “You’re the only one that can decide if you win or lose from conditioning, working hard and just practicing.”
Tristan called wrestling the girls “very intense, very fun.”
“I’m very glad to see the girls taking an interest in wrestling,” he said.
Tristan had this message for girls interested in joining the team.
“If you’re thinking about it or being bullied that you can’t do something, I want you to reach out and tell those people you can do anything,” he said. “And anything is possible and I want you to try wrestling if you want to do that.”
Coach Callison said he hoped to see in the next four years or so a girls wrestling team at Casteel.
“They said that we should be getting one in four years,” she said. “But I’d like to see it a bit sooner. But I can’t wait to have a girls wrestling team.”
Lexi said she hopes she and Camry inspire more girls to join the team.
“If they’re thinking slightly about joining and then they see us two in it,” she said, “it’ll spark that little sense of wanting to come.”
Tristan said some of his friends, who are girls, thought about signing up after hearing about Camry and Lexi.
Camry said that the growth of the team is exciting.
“I think you’ll see girls vs girls and I’d love for that to happen,” he said. “It’s kind of hard when guys wrestle girls competitively in a match. Our guys have been good with it, but it’s a no-no situation when a boy loses to a girl. All of a sudden there’s pressure there. And boys have been raised to not hurt girls and all of a sudden they have to be rough and aggressive.”
Coach Callison said his own son has wrestled girls growing up and has lost a few times to the girls.
The other reason he’d like to see a girls wrestling team is the physical differences.
“When they get to the high school level, right now Camry and Alexis are strong but the boys are starting to hit puberty and they’re getting stronger,” he said. “So, it is a different match when that happens.”
Coach Callison said that he is expecting his team to grow rapidly to include more girls.
“I think just because they’re in here, it will encourage others to come out,” he said. “We have another eighth-grade girl that has wrestled before and just moved to Casteel this fall.”
The regular season matches don’t start until January, Coach Callison said.
“Last year our seventh- and eighth-grade team, they were EVC (East Valley Conference) champions,” he said. “And I’m sure they’ll add to the mix.”
News Services Assistant Arianna Grainey can be reached at 623-445-2717, via e-mail at email@example.com or on twitter at ariannagrainey