Joco Diversions

Co-ed sports hold future lessons

How about this: You and I go at it — mano a mano.

We’ll pull on some spandex outfits, poise for attack, look each other in the eye, and calculate our first move. We’ll lurch into action, and soon one of us will tumble to to the floor, and the other will pile on top. We’ll continue our struggle, bending the other’s limbs painfully toward the ground. We will battle until one of us has the other pinned, helpless and exhausted, to the ground.

This wrestling at the middle school is what my son signed up for —as did many other boys, and a few girls.

“Whoa, girls wrestling? So there’s a girls’ team?” you may ask.

“Why, no,” I respond. “It’s co-ed.”

I’ve cheered my son through other co-ed sports —soccer and flag-football. Co-ed because it made sense. Because they were young, just getting their feet wet. Recreational. But this team is serious, not merely recreational. There are points and scores and standings between schools.

While you may be surprised, we were well aware that he would be joining yet one more co-ed sport. One of his friends was the first female wrestler for their school, in fact.

Wrestling in itself is kind of weird, and this is the first time I’ve watched it (other than WWF when my brother was young). Full-contact, skilled take-downs, rolling around on the floor, complete abandonment of personal space. Now imagine that scenario between a boy and a girl.

“Huh,” you might be thinking.

There’s something very primal about the sport.

It’s the act of overpowering another person using brute power. It’s two kids straining against the other’s strength and weight, grimacing, flushed with the determination, and sometimes rage it takes to keep pushing toward victory. It’s a battle, but not a fight. It takes strength and technique. It pushes kids to weigh out their will to win versus their desire to give in.

Kids are matched against other kids who are the same weight. Sometimes it’s clearly even — similar sized kids who seem equally matched in skill compete. But other times, it’s tall and lean against short and round. Or thick and mature against spindly and green. Or aggressive boy against tentative girl.

Or, an evenly matched boy and girl hit the mat, and an exciting match ensues where the spectators can’t tell who has the advantage, who might get the final pin, how the match will end. There are plenty of those.

I sit on the edge of the bleachers, heart pounding, amazed at these kids out there giving it their all.

I think about the lessons they’re learning. Their coaches are patient, kind and encourage sportsmanship. I see the quiet confidence my son has developed. He’s gained maturity, the understanding that he can face someone and compete, and sometimes come out on top. The feeling of getting knocked down, and fighting to get back up.

He’s learned to get hurt by an opponent, and walk away better friends.

And I think about what it means for him to be competing not just with other boys, but with girls. The “weaker” sex. And he sees them go out there, grit their teeth, and rush in for the pin. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t. Just like him.

One day, this experience will follow him into the professional world. Into relationships. Into life. And he’ll know not to underestimate a girl or assume they’re not “fit” for whatever it is they want to do.

Now, that’s a great lesson to learn.

Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at On Twitter: @emilyjparnell.