Cass County Democrat Missourian

Ray-Pec High girls wrestle their way into traditionally male sport

Tatum Westendorf and Shelby Patterson practice at Raymore-Peculiar High School as they get ready for the state championship.
Tatum Westendorf and Shelby Patterson practice at Raymore-Peculiar High School as they get ready for the state championship. Special to The Democrat

High school wrestling has long been a boys’ club, but that’s all changing in Missouri. For the first time, girls have their own division.

At Raymore-Peculiar High School, five girls have taken advantage of the opportunity and joined the wrestling team. Two of them, sophomores Tatum Westendorf and Shelby Patterson, qualified to the state championship in Columbia last weekend.

Both Patterson and and Tatum Westendorf went 2-2 at state in the 103-pound weight class and 131-pound weight class respectively.

Going into the championships, Patterson’s record was 19-3, and Westendorf’s was 14-4.

“Across the country, it’s the fastest-growing high school sport. It’s coming from next to nothing,” said Brett Barbarick, head wrestling coach. “Contact sports are dropping in numbers, but girls wrestling has been exploding in numbers.”

Coaching girls is definitely a different experience, Barbarick said, but it’s a positive one.

“It’s cool how they get excited together. They cry a lot, happy tears and sad tears. They show emotions more than the boys,” he said.

He also admired the girls’ work ethic.

“They’ve got a lot of fight and grit to them. There’s not a lot of quit in either one,” Barbarick said.

Patterson has been wrestling since seventh grade, and since there wasn’t a girls division, she’s had to wrestle with the boys until this year.

“It was tough. Definitely, the advantage boys have (is) strength, and they also had weight on me,” Patterson said.

She wrestled in the 106-pound class last year but was underweight at 97 pounds.

“There are girls out there who are super strong, but not many of them have the experience,” Patterson said.

It’s also easier for her to figure out how her opponent is thinking when she’s wrestling another girl, she said.

When the girls joined the sport, their male counterparts were very welcoming, Westendorf said. The word she used most to describe the school’s wrestling team — both boys and girls — was “family.”

“It was weird at first, but they soon realized that we were just part of the team, and we wanted to be treated like wrestlers,” Westendorf said.

Patterson had a similar experience.

“They all accepted me really well, especially when I was the only one last year. They joked around with me and helped me get better and encouraged me a lot,” Patterson said. “That was really nice. I didn’t expect that.”

In addition to getting along well with the boys’ team, the five girls — Westendorf, Patterson, Emily Buasri, Chloe Adams and Samantha Archer — have also developed their own connection.

“The bond we have as a girls wrestling team, all of us are really close. We can tell each other anything,” Patterson said.

Both Patterson and Westendorf are longtime fans of the sport.

“I watched it with my dad since I was 4, and it was the coolest sport I’d ever seen,” Westendorf said.

Westendorf wasn’t sure she’d be able to be part of the team, since she’s also a varsity cheerleader, but she was able to coordinate the schedules so she’s only missed a few meets and cheer commitments.

Assistant wrestling coaches Bobby Herrick and Drew Shaul helped the girls get up to speed on the basics of wrestling. Westendorf said she also watched teaching videos to learn more.

One challenge they’ve faced is that because girls’ wrestling is a new sport for the state, there aren’t as many tournaments for them. They’re hoping that will change as the sport gains momentum, and the coaches are planning to hold one at Raymore-Peculiar next season.

“If I could’ve change one thing, it would’ve just been wrestling more,” Patterson said.