Girls Wrestling has arrived at Hammer Wrestling, with Deziree Azar taking on the boys inside the Naperville North gym on this edition of Sports Story Sunday.
So who’s the girl and why is she wrestling?
Karl: “She’s pretty good, she wrestles the boys here and she puts it on em sometimes. She’s not a slouch and she’s not here just getting destroyed, so she holds her own and she earns respect that way.”
Hammer Wrestling Founder and Head Coach Karl Bratland is referring to Deziree Azar… a 9 year old girl in the middle of a gym, surrounded… by boys.
Karl: “When they have to wrestle boys it becomes a little bit of a deterrent. Because, it’s like ‘is it fair, do I wan to wrestle boys, do I not? Some kids and parents have reservations but…”
But… not for Dezi… who has absolutely no reservations about going toe to toe with anyone.
Dezi: “I don’t care if I’m wrestling the boys and they might say, ‘hey I can beat this girl’ and I’m like ‘go ahead and try’”
It’s been two years now, and Dezi is still enjoying the sports every bit as much (if not more) than she did the day she started. And she has nights watching her older brother to thank.
Dezi: “He started wrestling and I was wondering why can’t I have fun and wrestle too? So I joined in.”
And the wrestling isn’t contained to the gym at Naperville North… its something that spills into home life between Dezi and her two brothers
Dezi: “Well, if we’re doing practicing it goes pretty well… but if I’m wrestling my big brother, he beats me… but if I’m wrestling my little brother, I take him down.”
Karl: “Girls are starting to see them compete on websites, there’s just a lot more publicity out there. So they see it and go, ‘oh, maybe I should wrestle”.
And so Hammer Wrestling is trying to promote girls wresting, encouraging curious athletes who may want to give wrestling a shot. Because, after all… even though Dezi is comfortable around the boys, what could she use?
“Another partner that’s her size and a female so that way they can both feel comfortable. And the guys are great with her and they do a good job and include her and make sure she feels apart of the team.”
Not only is the opportunity for greater equality now present in the Hammer Wrestling gym, but there’s a new incentive. A new shirt-color-class system. Think mixed martial arts and belt colors… only wrestling and shirt colors. Something that Bratland has introduced this year and has put a lot of time into.
“20 plus years of wrestling experience trying to put it all together and it’s just like Jujitsu or any other sport – there’s so many moves and progressions and techniques that its… there’s probably a million moves out there that I didn’t put in there. But these are the moves I think would make someone successful.”
And so Dezi, like everyone else, will start with a white shirt… and progress from the there. The goal – testing well on the skills and fundamentals that make a wrestler successful. But it’s not just the skills on the mats that matter to Bratland.
“The skills in wrestling and the skills we talk about in the practice room can carry over into life in general, for kids and for adults.”
And while that’s a key message from Bratland to his athletes, Dezi has a message to share with other girls.
“I would say ‘you guys can try wrestling, it would be a very fun experience and you can’t let the boys have all the fun, so why aren’t you joining in too?”
So, perhaps the question isn’t “why is she wrestling?”… it’s “why isn’t everyone else?”.
Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman.