What do Flathead high school boy's and girl's wrestling programs have in common? They both have an influx of new wrestlers. But that's where the comparison ends. The boy's team has wrestlers that have been competing for years before they even get to high school, while head coach Amber Downing continues to get girls every season who've never played the sport.
Girls Flathead wrestling coach Amber Downing said, "There are a lot of what we call our rookie wrestlers in the girl's division. They are training out for the first time because they've never really known that it was an opportunity available to them, as well as the opportunity to be able to go out there and wrestle other girls."
And there lies the challenge and the opportunity. Coach Downing says her favorite part of the job is not only watching these girls grow as wrestlers but seeing their confidence blossom off the mat, as well.
"It's absolutely amazing. So we've started out with girls that were shy and quiet, that have been grown into phenomenal leaders and even team captains on our team, helping their other teammates learn the technique from day to day," said Downing.
Flathead wrestler Hania Halverson added," It just made me feel like oh I can do this."
Part of the reason that wrestling feels inclusive? There are no borders when it comes to wrestling. Everyone is of different sizes and weight classes. But the one thing they do all have in common is determination.
Halverson said, "There is not just one type of wrestler, and that is what I really like about it. So I think it is hard to stereotype other than having a hard work ethic."
And it's that work ethic that these athletes will take with them way beyond the matt.
"It's also taught me like to just overall give my 100% to an activity, and that's like taught me to put effort into my schoolwork but also like friendships and life in general," said Halverson.
Girl's and boy's head Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson said, "It is so cool to see girls now be a part of the sport of wrestling, and look how we did in the Olympics it is very popular now for girls and here at Flathead.