Middle-school girls from around Nassau County came together last month to compete in an all-female wrestling meet — an event that comes as the sport pivots on Long Island to increase participation.
The March 22 competition, hosted at Valley Stream North High School, featured 19 girls, including South Side Middle School eighth-grader Mia Reisert, who has wrestled the last two years in Rockville Centre.
Mia, 13, said she started doing Tiger Schulmann’s karate in sixth grade and really enjoyed it. “Then I was like, ‘Why don’t I just do wrestling?’” she said. “So then I did.”
Keith Eckert, head coach of the middle school’s wrestling team, noted Mia’s dedication. “She works really hard,” he said. “She doesn’t really ever get down on herself too much.” Being the only girl on the squad has never been an issue for her, he added, or for her teammates, who just view her as another wrestler.
“We have a lot of fun together,” Mia said of her and her teammates. “It doesn’t matter that I’m different from them.”
According to state regulations, for a girl to participate in mixed competition with the boys, a review panel comprising a school physician, a physical education teacher designated by the principal and sometimes others must approve the crossover.
Though the opportunity has existed for years for girls to join boys’ sports if there is no female version of that sport, on Feb. 1, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Executive Committee approved a proposal to allow girls to participate in boys’ and girls’ regular season events, as long as they don’t exceed 20 matches, the maximum amount.
This means, explained Carol Roseto, the Rockville Centre School District’s director of athletics, that girls are now allowed to participate in all-girls events during the season in addition to competing against the boys. Roseto, who learned judo as a young girl and worked as a physical education teacher and assistant wrestling coach at Lawrence Public Schools for about a decade, was asked to lead the charge in Nassau County to gauge girls’ interest in the sport.
Roseto started looking at the middle-school level, because they were still in season, and found 19 girls in the county who wanted to compete in the all-female competition last month.
“It was really cool, because I didn’t know that there were so many of them,” Mia said of her fellow female competitors in the county. “I was like, ‘Wow, there are other people who do this, and we can really change wrestling and make it become an actual thing.’”
Mia was a captain of the South Side Middle School wrestling team this year, and went 4-2, including a pin in the first period.
“She grew a lot last year from day to day, match to match,” said assistant coach Sal DiGiacomo. “Coming into this year, she was really determined to impress the coaches and the rest of her teammates and be a leader.”
Eckert said girls’ wrestling is very popular in other parts of the country, but in his 15 years of coaching — including at Kellenberg Memorial High School and St. Anthony’s — he has seen only about a half dozen females compete.
“To kind of see Long Island starting to cultivate some of the girl athletes for wrestling is just a huge step forward for the sport,” Eckert said.
A track and cross-country athlete as well, Mia said she hopes to continue wrestling in high school. Roseto is hoping to start a girls’ division in Rockville Centre’s youth wrestling program and is spreading information to other athletic directors in the county to help foster the girls’ wrestling movement. She said she would also be contacting Nassau Community College, which recently started a girls’ wrestling team, to see if they could organize a clinic this spring.
“While we’ve got the momentum going,” Roseto said, “I’m going to try to just keep offering opportunities for females.”