Grappling Beyond Gender Barriers


Nyatasha Jackowicz, Editor in Chief

For a girl, walking into a wrestling room full of teenage boys stresses the nerves. First there is the stale odor of sweat. That alone would put off most non wrestlers. Then there are the looks. Yet imagine walking into that same wrestling room as a girl who is about to join that team.

My first day of wrestling was like a trip down the rabbit hole. It was my sophomore year when I learned basic moves and followed the behavior of the boys who surrounded me. After drilling takedowns, reversals, and escapes I began to feel more comfortable and the boys learned I wasn’t as fragile as they thought. To me, wrestling is no different with a girl in the room. Only two things separate me from the boys; the T-shirt under my singlet and my hair cap.

Despite being female, a phrase that I find somewhat frustrating, I have won matches. Not only have I won but I’ve pinned my male opponents. Thanks to my background in Judo, a martial art, I am no stranger to close contact sports and from my training under our team’s coaches I’m prepared to take on any challenge.

Wantagh is coached by head coach Paul Gillespie and assistant Reggie Jones, both members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, PJ Gillespie, a former NCAA All-American wrestler, and Todd Bloom and Ray Hanley Jr., who were also collegiate wrestlers. Being trained under these talented individuals has increased my chances for success and I am grateful for their direction on the mat.

What makes wrestling worth it is the satisfaction of helping the team through my individual involvement. For the first time I will get to compete in the post-season Nassau County individual qualifying tournament. As it’s my last season, I’m excited for this opportunity. It’s almost as exciting as of my first season of wrestling. I was inexperienced, nervous but itching to get out on the mat. I convinced a teammate to give me his match during a dual meet against Plainedge High School.

When I stepped onto the mat I had the attention of all the people who helped me become a Wantagh wrestler and my heartbeat drowned out everything except for my coaches’ voices. After hand fighting for thirty seconds I was able to take my opponent down and cradle him into a pin. When the referee’s whistle blew and I stood up, the greatest thing happened. He raised the arm, not of Wantagh’s first female wrestler but of a Wantagh wrestler.

Now two years have passed and I encouraged my sister, Katrynna Jackowicz, to join and now there are two girls in the room. With her by my side, the training room has a greater sense of comradery. I am hopeful for a sucessful future for her, but right now I’m focusing on the dream that the referee is going to lift my arm and send me off to the county tournament.