Little girls decked out in singlets, shooting double-leg take downs and working for a pin isn't a traditional picture, but for members of the Illinois Girls Wrestling Team, it's exactly the one they want.
Recently started by Oak Forest resident Mark Houston, the team is an outlet for young girls who want to try out the sport of wrestling.
The team recently took part in its first dual meet and out-of-state tournament in Michigan and held its first organized practice on Friday, Feb. 15.
“We wrestled girls from Ohio and Michigan, we had a riot,” Houston said. “It was two dual meets on Saturday and then a tournament on Sunday. Some girls wrestled eight times in 20 hours. That just doesn't happen in Illinois. You literally just wrestle the same three or four girls here.”
Houston said that was his entire goal for the team, to expand the options for his two daughters, and the rest of their team. Typically, girls who want to wrestle must compete against boys at all age levels—not exactly a level playing field. He said that besides the developmental disadvantage girls might face, there's the perception of possibly losing to a girl at higher levels.
“There's that chauvinism I think, sometimes it's the kids, sometimes it's the parents,” Houston said. “The idea of, 'Oh, I don't want to lose to a girl,' or whatever. My hope is to expand the horizons and opportunities for our girls.”
Those opportunities are few and far between right now, but it's Houston's hope that the team might inspire others in the state to start similar programs.
“I would like to see the Illinois kids wrestling federation create more opportunities for girls,” he said. “They'll have four tournaments this year, next year I’d like to see them double that. To have tournaments more localized so we're not driving so far. Maybe other teams will start to pop up. … My end game is to see more youth events and to see IHSA create girls events, maybe even a girls state championship at the high school level.”
For more information about the Illinois Girls Wrestling Team, visit their facebook page.