Girls’ wrestling finding foothold in state

CR’s Makenna Dolt wrestles Smyrna’s Lindsey Elder last January in what might have been the state’s first all-girl varsity wrestling match. Special to the Delaware State News/Gene Shaner

CAMDEN — Makenna Dolt is a pretty competitive kid.

The Caesar Rodney High freshman had to be to make the Riders’ starting lineup in wrestling.

But when she took the mat against rival Smyrna last January, somehow the result seemed secondary.

“I didn’t really care if I was going to win or lose,” said Dolt, “because I knew that being the first girl I wrestled in a varsity match, it was going to be a big deal.”

Indeed, Dolt’s match against the Eagles’ Lindsey Elder may have been the first high school varsity wrestling match between two females in state history.

But wrestling organizers around the state are determined to make sure it’s not the last such match.

Now with a foothold in the sport, they’re convinced that they can make girls’ wrestling a bigger part of the state’s athletic landscape in the next few years.

Insult to injury

Clearly, Dolt’s mom, Brandy, hopes this generation of female wrestlers doesn’t have to deal with some of the things she had to endure.

A 2001 high school graduate, Brandy — whose maiden name is Golt — competed on boys’ teams with her brothers growing up in Virginia. Sometimes, when her name was announced first for an individual match, boys simply refused to take the mat with her.

“There were times when, if they saw me coming, they wouldn’t send anybody out,” said Dolt, who comes from a family of 10 children. “So I’d end up with forfeits. Or kids would try to hurt me just so they didn’t have to wrestle me anymore.

“There was this one kid that was on my own team and he was heavier than me. My brother watched him continue to try to hurt me (in practice) — just to show off. My brother eventually said, ‘OK, you go switch. You take that partner and I’ll take him.’ People were quite often put in their place between one of the 10 of us or my mom and dad.”

Dolt eventually became a female All-American wrestler both in high school and at Missouri Valley College.

Emmy and Makenna Dolt watch their mom, Brandy (bottom) wrestle in a college alumni match a few years ago. Submitted photos

She and her family moved to Delaware two years ago. Along with having five potential female wrestlers — her youngest daughter is only a couple months old — Brandy started coaching girls through CR’s Little Riders youth program.

As well as working with the boys, the girls had a practice devoted to them one day a week. The group of about 10 included wrestlers from outside the CR district.

Dolt feels like attitudes are starting to change about female wrestling. She noticed it when she was in the stands at one of her daughter’s middle-school matches.

“I feel like parents on the other side of the gym are starting to realize, even if their son loses to them, it’s OK,” said Dolt. “It’s not because their son is bad. They just out-wrestled him.

“There’s still that stigma of girls aren’t supposed to beat anybody in this sport. But once they see, ‘Oh they do know something,’ then it’s a little of OK, times are changing.”

Dolt said there’s a message she tries to give to her daughters and other female wrestlers if they feel intimidated.

“There’s going to be people that don’t like you, that don’t think you belong,” she tells them. “The only thing you have something to prove to is yourself. You have to ignore the rest of the comments or the looks or the stares.”

On the same level

That being said, the goal — especially in the high school and college ranks — is to have enough female wrestlers that they don’t have to compete against boys.

People involved in the sport say the disparity in strength is just too great as the competitors get older.

“What we know to be true is that women’s and girls’ wrestling grows so much faster when girls don’t have to wrestle boys,” said Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

“If they’re always only wrestling boys, they might be defeated (mentally),” said Brandy Dolt. “(In all-girls’ events), they can at least see where they rank among people that are equal to them in size and strength. But also, if they don’t get outside boys’ tournaments, then they won’t ever be seen by these colleges that should see them.”

(4) Makenna Dolt, top step, won her weight class in a JV tournament at Polytech.

Perhaps the most visible sign of the sport’s growth in Delaware is that an informal all-girls’ tournament was held at Smyrna in February, the day after the DIAA individual state tourney concluded. The round-robin event attracted over 48 competitors, including both middle and high school-level wrestlers.

“It was very exciting,” said Vic Leonard, a member of the Delaware Wrestling Alliance Board of Directors. “There’s no doubt about it — the interest in it.”

Two years ago there were 27 female wrestlers in the state’s high school programs. This past season, there were 29, with more expected to come up from the middle-school ranks.

CR is just one of the schools trying to promote girls’ wrestling. Milford and Caravel have also run weekly training sessions.

Between CR, Milford, Smyrna, Lake Forest, Seaford and First State Military, there were 14 female wrestlers on downstate high school rosters this past season.

Nationally, there are now 27 states that have separate, female state wrestling championships with a projection of 28,000 girls wrestling at the high school level, said Moyer. There are 81 female college programs.

A teacher at A.I. DuPont High, Leonard has made presentations to the DIAA about the sport. Besides the merits of wrestling itself, he tells prospective female wrestlers about the growing number of college scholarships that are available as well as the chance to learn self defense.

“I’m excited about it and so is the state wrestling committee,” said Leonard. “Everybody’s on board with it. Buddy (Lloyd) really wants to promote this thing and get it rolling. It’s just a matter of getting the numbers up now.

“We’re going to do the club thing first and get the interest up, start wrestling outside the state. Then girls will say, ‘I’d like to do that.’ That’s how it’s going to work — the girls saying, ‘This is great, come on out.’”

“I think, as a state, we’re moving in the right direction,” said CR coach Dan Rigby, who has three female high school wrestlers and several more in middle school. “I don’t think we’re there. But I think we’re at least building the foundation of girls’ wrestling in Delaware.”

Leonard said organizers plan to have two top all-female college teams at the Beast of the East tournament in December.

Last year, Maryland’s Stephen Decatur High held a girls’ bracket as part of its War on the Shore Tournament. Milford’s Emily Thode and Brooklyn Grant both won their weight class.

The Dolt sisters, Emmy, Callie and Makenna, are all wrestlers like their parents.

There’s also a Delaware Divas club program that plans to compete outside the state. The hope is that club teams will then give schools enough wrestlers to have their own all-female squads in the next few years.

“The sport has so much to offer,” said Dolt. “Everybody comments about what it does for boys — about all the life lessons that you learn. These girls can get the same exact thing.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit more simply because they have to face that adversity of trying to prove themselves all the time,” she added.

Sign of things to come

In the meantime, organizers hope that things like the match between Makenna Dolt and Elder are signs of things to come.

Brandy Dolt remembers that she didn’t wrestle another girl until she was a high school senior — and it was in a tourney in Michigan.

“I was so happy for both of them, to be able to do that,” she said about her daughter and Elder. “To see that was so very exciting. It was very emotional simply because I didn’t have that when I was younger. This is a huge opportunity for them just to be able to have that one match to wrestle another girl.”

Macy Dolt competes in the all-girls wrestling event held at Smyrna in February.

Makenna, who said CR’s coaches and wrestlers have all been very supportive of her, admits she was nervous about the big match. She ended up winning by a 13-2 margin.

She said maybe the biggest compliment she can receive is having other girls say they want to try wrestling after watching her.

“If you get the chance to wrestle another girl, it’s going to make other girls want to do it, too,” said Makenna. “So then it’ll grow even more.”