By MARINA WATERS
The halls of Daniel Boone High School and David Crockett High School couldn’t look more different. But as each school’s lone female wrestler peered into her school’s trophy case, there was a similar vacancy of wrestling trophies — and they’re both looking to change that.
Isabella Badon is Boone’s two-time state champion girls wrestler for the 112-pound weight class and Paige Snapp is Crockett’s regional champion who placed fourth at the state tournament in the 155-pound weight class this year. Both girls have been dominant forces on the mat for the Blazers and Pioneers, but their success has also come with its own set of battles.
“The very first year I started, I had to shadow wrestle by myself because the boys would not practice with me,” Badon said, thinking back on her pre-high school wrestling days. “I was on an all boys team and it was me, the only girl. I had to wrestle boys at that time because with AAU it’s mixed. Then finally the coach had to force the boys to practice with me.”
From there, Badon, who comes from a family of Hall of Fame wrestlers and state champions, learned not only the basics of wrestling, but also how to assess the dynamics of wrestling boys.
“Knowing that they’re always strong upper-body and lower-body wise, I have to know not to get in head ties,” Badon said. “Because I’m very likely to be head-thrown. And I’ve been pinned and head-thrown twice last year and I wasn’t pinned this year with that.”
For Snapp, wrestling the guys on Crockett’s wrestling team is just another way for her to get better.
“Whenever I wrestle Mikey, he helps me work on speed. Whenever I wrestle Ryan, he helps me work on flexibility. And they’re both smaller than me. But when I wrestle the bigger guys like Justin, it helps me learn to take in shots closer because he’s really long. No matter what guy I wrestle, they always help me on different things.”
“It’s different. If I wrestle a guy that’s smaller than me, he’s still going to be better than me because guys are naturally stronger and they’re built different. Their hips are different and everything and a lot of the guys can actually use their hips better than the girls can. So I would say that wrestling even the smaller guys makes you better.”
Badon and Snapp—who are now both captains of their teams—only challenge the boys during practice due to the TSSAA girls wrestling rules which disqualify any girl who competes against a male wrestler in a match. But this doesn’t alleviate the struggles they face; Crockett’s head wrestling coach Tod Parker explained that many teams have girls of different weight classes from that of Snapp’s and even finding opponents can be difficult.
“Sometimes it gets aggravating because I want her to wrestle as many times as she can because that’s how you get better,” Parker said. “We may go three weeks and the guys wrestle every time you turn around and not have a match for her because no one has the girls. Even last year when I had two girls, it was difficult because Paige was 138 then and the other girl was 105. So it’s hard to put them against each other and either of them get any better because Paige was stronger than her obviously. So it’s difficult.”
Even among their own gender, Snapp and Badon have to readjust their techniques in order to take on girls of different weight classes.
“It’s not easy. You’ve gotta really work for it because my freshman year, every match was really close,” Badon explained. “And I had to be very perfect in all my technique because all the girl wrestlers are stronger than me because they’re shorter and more compact. I’m pretty long and lanky. So I learned I needed to build up my muscle and be perfect on everything.”
Meanwhile, Snapp not only had to assess the change she endured going from 138 pounds to 155 pounds between last year and this year, but she also has had to consider her mindset when wrestling girls that belong in lower weight classes.
“It wouldn’t be smart at all (to wrestle a smaller girl) because I could hurt her just landing on her leg wrong or her arm,” Snapp said. “The mindset you get into is, ‘Okay, I don’t have to be as strong. I don’t have to work as hard.’ And that’s totally wrong.”
Coach Parker has had girl wrestlers during his time with the program and said that having girls on the wrestling team has made him reassess the way in which he operates as the wrestling coach—especially when it comes to weigh-ins.
“I don’t have any girl’s coaches on my team, so basically it’s slide the scale under the door and tell me what you weigh.” Parker said. “And I’m just hoping you tell me the truth. When we go to weigh-ins, sometimes I have to get my wife out of the stands or another woman—which isn’t an official because the official’s are all men.”
Now both coaches hope to add more girls to their wrestling roster. Badon said she’s hoping to add her sister who will be an upcoming freshman to the team. Meanwhile, the Crockett coach is hoping Snapp’s hallway recruitment will encourage new faces.
“I’ve been taught since I was a little fella that you don’t ever ask a girl how much they weigh or how old they are,” Coach Parker said, laughing. “And I catch myself going through the hall all the time trying to recruit some more girls saying, how much do you weigh?”
The athletes and coaches also want to see continued growth throughout the region for the sport. Blazer wrestling coach Blake Shropshire said he felt the community has been very supportive. That support was evident right before Bella went back to Murfreesboro to win what would be her second state title.
“People in this region want this region to be successful,” Shropshire said. “I thought it was really cool that this year before state, all the state placers were invited up to Tennessee High’s facility. I thought that was pretty neat.”
Shropshire—who started the job at Boone the year Badon came in as a freshman—also hopes girls wrestling athletes receive recognition along with the sport.
“For some reason, it seems like there’s a stigma towards wrestling in this area. It’s funny, the first thing they think is like WWF jumping off top ropes and things like that,” Shropshire said. “I just wish that wrestling was more respected in the area. Like with what Bella did, that’s unreal. That’s so hard to do. Just to place twice is hard, but to win a state championship twice, that doesn’t happen.
It’s hard to get through a season, much less to be successful.”
Snapp and Badon have their own goals, however. Badon has two more years of high school and Snapp still has her senior year ahead of her, but both girls have set their sights on returning to state and wrestling in college. To do so, they’re also working on the mental aspects of the sport.
“I need to be more aggressive,” Snapp said. “Girls don’t really like to be physical, but I’m still more aggressive than a lot of girls that walk around in the hallway. It gets frustrating because the boys can flip (their aggression on) like that, but for me it’s honestly really hard to do that. I’m aggressive, but I’m not as aggressive as they are and it literally takes me forever. My switch didn’t get flipped until regional tournament when my coach chewed me out. I got mad and started winning more. It helped me place at state. It took me all year to flip the switch. And it’s still hard.”
For Badon, confidence was in her corner this season, which is something she wants to keep working on.
“Because I always had really close matches and the girls were always bigger than me by a lot, I was always very nerve-wracked before the matches,” Badon said, “especially my semi-finals match because I was going up against the girl that was supposed to win state. So I was like, ‘I’ve never wrestled her before. I don’t know how this is gonna go.” Right before the match I was shaking I was so scared. My dad just comes and hugs me and he’s like, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just wrestle.’ So always before my matches now, I’ll be like, “let’s just wrestle.’”
From facing boys who didn’t want to practice with them to wrestling girls of different weight classes, the wrestling captains are still working towards their goals while also spreading the word on what the sport can do for a young girl.
“With girls in general, when they start young, they just have to be knowing that even if they’re gonna get beat, they’ll be beat a lot,” Badon said, “but when they get to high school they’ll be able to wrestle their own gender and their own weight and have a very good chance.”
“I would say it’s made me a lot tougher mentally,” Snapp said. “Because when they decide that today’s going to be the day that they’re going to try to wear you down and break you down and make you go as far as you can, mentally you have to be there. You can’t do it if you’re not mentally there. And in a match, if you want to give up, it’s going to show. And you’re going to lose. But mentally if you’re tough and you know you can do it and push yourself, you may not win the match, but you’ll still get further and you’ll still do better.”