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Girl wrestler breaks gender barrier

WARRENSBURG A Warrensburg High School wrestler charged off the mat after pinning a muscle-bound competitor from South Glens Falls. Face flushed and breathing hard after a long, physical bout, the grappler took a drink from a sports bottle and yanked off headgear and long red hair spilled out over her shoulders. Yes, Warrensburg High has a girl competing on its Varsity Wrestling Team Sophomore Abby Roth. And Abbys not only turning heads, but shes making local history in a sport that in years past accommodated only boys. Shes not only the first female to wrestle Varsity matches for Warrensburg, but shes expected to be very competitive in the upcoming sectional tournaments. During this recent wrestling meet with South Glens Falls, Abbys father Kevin Roth was sitting in the stands, watching Abbys male opponent throw her to the mat and grapple with her before she wrapped her legs around him, took him off balance, then pressed him to the mat for a pin. Roth was asked if he cringed when strong male wrestlers would get physical with his daughter. I was skeptical at first, but Im more used to it now, he said, recalling that Abby had started years ago on the WCS Modified team. But I still get pretty nervous watching my daughter go against some of these guys. Roth said Abbys agility, intensity and her knowledge of wrestling holds and moves made up for the natural strength differential between males and females. I know shes intelligent, athletic and smart about her wrestling, so she can stay out of trouble on the mat, Roth said. Wrestling Coach mark Trapasso, although hes Abbys uncle, says he does not advocate girls joining the team because of the problems that potentially arise in boy-girl bouts. Some high school coaches refuse to let their male wrestlers compete with girls. And for a boy wrestler to lose to a girl, Trapasso said, it can be a devastating, embarrassing experience. When a girl wrestles a guy, he will do everything he possibly can to prevent a girl from beating him, Trapasso said, recalling how another girl at Warrensburg High, Erin Stephenson, first broke the gender barrier in the mid-1990s by wrestling in practices, but not Varsity meets. And when a guy beats a girl, Trapasso added, his teammates might not even consider it a legitimate win. Initially, when Abby asked to join the team, I said absolutely not, no way, he said. But after I saw her winning matches, proving me wrong, then I started looking at the benefits of her on the team. Trapasso said that the dozens of other wrestlers on the team, once skittish about sharing the mat with a girl, are now used to it. The coaches now treat her like one of the guys, he said. And she continually outworks everyone in the wrestling room -- she knows she has to. Ironically, Trapasso may have inspired Abby early on. As a youngster, she watched Warrensburg wrestling meets, and enjoyed grappling with boys on the sidelines, as Trapasso coached, Abby recalled last week. My uncle has been coach forever, and I had to go to tournaments, and I enjoyed it, Abby said. One night, I was fooling around with one of the wrestlers on a mat behind the chairs, and I ended up beating him. One of the coaches said, You really need to come to practice, you can beat a lot of the guys, she continued. She wrestled on the modified team, tallying a 15-4 record as an 8th grader, and the squads coach Brian Winchell urged her to try out for the JV/Varsity squad, although Trapasso was against the idea. But when in squad practice, shed successfully take on all challengers, he changed his mind. I never got taken out once, Abby recalled. When I first started wrestling on the team, my friends would say Omigod, omigod, but now they think its cool. Her teammates, also, adjusted to the idea of boy-girl grappling, she said. All the guys on the team are very cool about things, she said. I practice a lot with Donovan (Santisteban), and hes like my brother -- we definitely give each other a good workout. As a Freshman on Varsity, she had a 27-15 record, securing 4th place in the sectional tournaments. This year, shes amassed a 15-14 record, with many of the losses just by a few points. Her father predicted shed do well in the upcoming sectionals, recalling how as an 8-year-old she worked hard to earn a black-belt after 4 years of dedicated practice. Anything she goes at, she makes sure she excels at, Roth said. She has an incredible intensity and she senses how to psych-out her opponents.

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