In 2006, the Brawley Union High wrestling team was having an annual Powder Puff fundraiser but it was slightly different than the others in the past.
It was a Powder Puff wrestling event but not the usualÂ two teams composed of girls from the same high school playing a boysâ€™ sport, this time Brawley hosted a duel against Holtville High.
The event drew a good buzz with an eager and energetic crowd that evening – and maybe, just maybe a seed was planted.
There had always been a girl or two competing against the Brawley wrestling team, but never one on the Wildcats, Victoria Smith changed that in 2013.
â€œBeing the first girl in the wrestling room was intimidating because it was just a different atmosphere, but it felt good knowing I was the first girl,â€ the now 18-year-old senior said. â€œIt felt like I was pushing down walls, but I didnâ€™t really know what would come of it.â€
Smith was the first to break the mold by stepping foot in a wrestling room – a place the Brawley boys dominated throughÂ wrestling for over a decade. After Smith, others decided to follow in her footsteps.
â€œI started wrestling my freshman year because I thought it would be a good experience. I had wanted to do it when I was younger, but couldn’t,â€ 16-year-old junior Ana Cuen said. â€œWhen I started, I didnâ€™t feel like I was good, but I was able to take third at CIF so I stuck with it and now Iâ€™m here.â€
In year one, there was one, then came three more and now ten years after that fun-filled Powder-Puff, the girls in the Brawley wrestling room are now a full team.
â€œI think itâ€™s awesome to see a full team in here after it was just me to start,â€ Smith said. â€œSome of them have told me that I was the reason they decided to come out and give it a try, so it just makes me feel like I did something good here.â€
With a full team meant they needed a coach, and it was a long-time Brawley coach that stepped up to the challenge.
Raymond Leon has been coaching with Brawley for 30 years, 29 being on the boys’ side of things.
â€œItâ€™s been different, but the girls are more vocal. They let you know when they are hurting or struggling, whereas the boys wonâ€™t tell you anything as if it shows weakness. I like that the girls are upfront with me, it helps as a coach,â€ Leon said. â€œI was hard on boys, so now I think Iâ€™m more relaxed, and trying to be funny, but at times I have to act angry to get them to listen.â€
The team now sits around 20 members, a number Leon didn’t think would stick around.
â€œThey have surprised me. I tell them itâ€™s not an easy sport, its hard work and youâ€™re going to want to give up. Iâ€™m impressed,â€ Leon said. â€œThey’ve come out and stayed the course, theyâ€™re tough and they made the decision to wrestle and they are.â€
First days of practice can be tough in any new sport, but sometimes wrestling can offer different challenges.
â€œThe first day I was really nervous I just wasn’t used to touching other people or other people touching me and I was anxious because I felt like I wasn’t going to be doing things right,â€ said first-year wrestler, 15-year-old Maia Ysiano. â€œBut eventually I got used to it and began to enjoy it. I learned that Iâ€™m tougher than I thought. I could do this or anything, if I put my heart and mind into it.â€
The team has drawn interest from various different girls on the Brawley campus including a cheerleader and a homecoming queen.
â€œFor me it started with Powder Puff. I saw my friends doing it so I decided to join and I started to like it, so I stayed,â€ 17-year-old senior Ericka Waters said. â€œYou canâ€™t judge a person by their looks and just because Iâ€™m girly, doesn’t mean Iâ€™m soft and canâ€™t do a physical sport.
If there is one thing I’ve learned is to stay strong no matter what, because when you lose, itâ€™s very hard to keep your head up, but you will always learn something.â€
Itâ€™s a team full of girls from different ages to different backgrounds but a full team nevertheless.Â Having a full team opens the door to being able to compete at the girlsâ€™ tournament level, which they have done already this year but they were also to make history.
On Thursday evening in Indio, the Brawley girlsâ€™ wrestling team competed in its first girlsâ€™ sanctioned duel against another girlsâ€™ team.
Shadow Hills High hosted a girlsâ€™ duel right before their boysâ€™ varsity team was set to square off. T the gym was full of spectators and the lights were dimmed for the history in the making moment.
â€œI was excited and nervous for them, hoping they would do well and not be overwhelmed by the entrance spotlight because they put on a show and made it look like the real deal,â€ Leon said of the duel. â€œI had to get the girls out of this mindset because theyÂ weren’t used to having that attention. I just wanted them to stay positive and do what they came here to do.â€
The experience was so new for Brawley that they had a hard time lining up for the faceoff, but eventually things got going and they executed, proving they had worked hard.
â€œI think we were all pretty nervous, but as the duel went on and we saw the score, I was proud of them and all the work we had put in because we deserved this,â€ Cuen said.
The Wildcats beat the Knights, 52-30, making history in style.
â€œIâ€™m very proud of them, they came out, battled, and held their head up- win or lose â€¦ it was just a really special moment,â€ Leon said.
Leon wanted the win, but it was an unannounced feeling amongst the girls that they wanted to win for their coach.
â€œIâ€™m proud to call him my coach â€¦ he pushed me and all of us so hard. When I was hurting or making weight he was always there with me in my corner,â€ Cuen said. â€œI love him and he wanted that win and this was his goal and Iâ€™m happy that I helped make that happen.â€
It was definitely a moment that maybe most of the girls didnâ€™t see coming at first, but deep down knew their hard work and growth would lead them to something special.
â€œItâ€™s just been great to see the growth. I never thought people would join, because it wasnâ€™t as well known. Â Iâ€™m happy to see where we are now,â€ Waters said. â€œI had high hopes for this team and tonight we showed we are capable and Iâ€™m excited about what can happen.â€
It was a great accomplishment for girls wrestling at Brawley, but only a stepping-stone for the future.
â€œFor me it was a bittersweet feeling, it was amazing they were able to win, but sad knowing I wasnâ€™t there to help my team,â€ Smith said. â€œThis sport has grown so much for us in such little time. I think that pretty soon not only the boys will be recognized for wrestling here â€¦ the girls are going to take over and have a few CIF titles of their own soon.â€[envira-gallery id=”71329″]