by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Sarah Tison is only an eighth grader, but she already feels like she has been a pioneer for a long time.
This season, Tison became the first girl to wrestle in the Maple Grove High School program at any level. She started on junior varsity and in December was called on to wrestle in her first varsity meet.
Being a first is nothing new for Tison.
“I guess I’ve always felt like a pioneer,” she said. “I was the first girl at Osseo youth wrestling and the first girl at Maple Grove youth wrestling, so I am just used to being a pioneer. A bunch of people I don’t know come up and talk to me all the time. They know who I am because I am a girl. I think it’s pretty cool that people are noticing girl wrestlers.”
Tison started wrestling in third grade, following the footsteps of brother Taylor, a freshman 182-pounder for the Crimson. She loves the sport and now wrestles year round.
“I like wrestling mostly because it’s the case of accomplishment,” Tison said. “I can go to practice, have a goal and every practice I can say I achieved this goal. It’s an individual sport but it’s also a team thing. You are there for your team, but also when you go home you can say I did this myself, I achieve this.”
Tison said her parents support her pursuit of wrestling and encourage her to stand up for herself.
“My parents are very supportive. They told me that if somebody is laughing at me that I should go and kick their butt,” Tison said. “And so that’s what I try to do — to prove to everybody who said girls can’t wrestle that they are wrong.”
Tison didn’t know what reaction she’d get the first time she walked into team practice, but she didn’t get any reaction.
“It’s not like they reacted negatively. They didn’t really react,” she said.” I don’t know how to explain it.”
Crimson coach Troy Seubert said that’s because the Crimson took the news of having a girl on the team in strides and didn’t think much of it.
“I don’t think there was a reaction. I don’t think it even bothered or fazed them,” Seubert said. “I think I would have reacted more than they did at their age. I thought it’s kind of exciting to just to have a different dynamics with a girl on the team but you also wondered how everybody is going to respond to the whole thing. It’s a credit to our kids that they haven’t treated her any different.”
Seubert said that other than having a separate weigh-in, Tison does not get any special treatment.
“She is treated just like everybody else on the team,” Seubert said. “Sarah is a great kid. It’s a real pleasure to have her on the team.”
Tison said after that interesting first meeting everything is cool.
“At first they didn’t really know me. Now they are really there for me,” she said. “I am just one of the guys.”
Tison demands that teammates treat her just like anyone else and not take it easy on her because of her gender.
“I will get mad at them if they take it easy on me,” she said. “I would say I deserve to be treated exactly the same. So if they do that I get mad at them and I go extra hard at them… I don’t want to be treated special like I am a little precious princess who will break when I get touched. No. I like doing all the work that they do.”
FIRST VARSITY MATCH
Tison, who looks much slimmer in a t-shirt and jeans than the weight she wrestles at (132), was rewarded for her hard work on Dec. 13 when she was asked to wrestle varsity for the first time.
“I was expecting to wrestle JV that night and the coaches came up to me half way through the match and said, ‘Sarah, you get to wrestle varsity tonight. We are going to put you on for 132,’” Tison recalled. “So I get my stuff and my teammates are saying, ‘Go Sarah and try hard’ and I am thinking,’ I really, really want to do good in this match.’”
You could call it baptism by fire as Tison’s first varsity opponent was Osseo’s sophomore ace Carson Brolsma, a two-time state entrant who currently is ranked eighth at 126. Unfazed by the historic occasion and the challenge of facing a far more experienced opponent, Tison gave a respectable showing. She made it through the first period before Brolsma caught and pinned her in the second period.
“We needed to have somebody to wrestle in that weight class and Sarah was the best fit for that spot,” Seubert said. “She did great. And Sarah is not afraid of anybody. Lot of eighth graders would back away from a challenge like that but Sarah is the type of person who goes right at it.”
“I felt accomplished because even though I got pinned I learned stuff,” Tison said. “I learned there are some moves that I didn’t know the defense to so I know I need to work on these moves. I made it through the first period and that was an accomplishment for me. Everybody was saying it was still really good because otherwise it would have been a forfeit. So even though I didn’t win the match I felt it was a good experience for me.”
Tison also learned the difference between varsity and JV.
“It’s definitely a skill level thing but it’s also kind of a mindset,” she said. “In JV some of the guys are kind of relaxed but in varsity they are so mentally tough they will go out and try their hardest and they won’t stop no matter what. And since wrestling is mostly in the mind your body won’t stop until your mind does. They are very good physically and mentally.”
Thus far, Tison said overall she has not experienced negative reaction from opposing teams.
“A lot of people came up and congratulated me,” she said. “Sometimes guys on other teams would point at me and laugh at me and think they are going to beat me and I just go there and try to beat them bad. It’s not that often that I see it because people are starting to realize that girls are wrestling more and more.”
“I am assuming there probably is some ‘Oh you have to wrestle a girl and something like that’ between friends,” Seubert said. “I think in our sport it’s become a common place to have girls wrestling. Most teams have a girl, some have two or three.”
But a recent episode shows that resistance to girls wrestling still exists. When the Crimson wrestled Elk River Jan. 17, Tison was scheduled to wrestle JV but the boy she was supposed to wrestle at 132 refused to wrestle her. So Seubert bumped her up to varsity and Tison got to wrestle in her fourth varsity match against Evan Caldron, a senior ranked seventh in the state.
So far, Tison is 1-3 in varsity with the win a forfeit and 7-12 in JV. She would love to become a varsity regular and she knows she has to work extra hard to do so.
“That is my goal. I really want to become varsity and stick with varsity. I try my hardest at every practice and try to get better,” Tison said. “I do have to work harder if I want to be stronger than the guys. I feel like I have to think more than they do because I have to worry about not getting stuck in positions that I don’t have the strength to get me out of so I have to rely on speed and thinking smart.”
Tison is putting lots of effort into becoming a better wrestler. In addition to wrestling high school, she also trains weekly with Minnesota USA Wrestling in preparation for tournaments in the spring and summer. In the past three national girls’ freestyle tournaments, Tison placed second twice and third once.
“I love nationals,” Tison said. “There are girls from every state in the country and to talk to them and hear their stories is awesome.”
Chad Shilson, director of the girls/women’s program for Minnesota USA Wrestling, said there are 8,000 female wrestlers in the country. States such as Texas, California, Michigan and Hawaii have high school girls’ teams.
Wrestling is a rough and physical sport but Tison is a perfect example that girls can wrestle and still remain girls.
“I am girly when I am not on the mat,” said Tison as she proudly showed off her freshly painted red finger nails. “I have no serious injuries from wrestling, just a couple bruises.”
Seubert sees a bright future for Tison because of her work ethics and mental makeup.
“She is a sweet girl off the mat but on that mat she is serious,” Seubert said. “She is not going to back down from anybody. She is physical and she is a good wrestler and the guys respect her for it.She has such a good attitude, she puts in her time and she works at it. Good things will come.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]