Thirteen-year-old Grace Nesbit is strong.
She is a strong student-athlete, balancing schoolwork with a full calendar of sports and other extracurricular activities. She is also strong in spirit, joining the KPMS wrestling team as a sixth-grader despite the sports’ association with male athletes. She is, finally, a strong competitor, finishing fourth overall in her weight class and the only KPMS eighth grade girl at the coed district meet at Peninsula High School Dec. 8.
“She’s a great leader on our team,” said Nesbit’s coach, Leonard Spadoni.
For Nesbit, wrestling runs in the family. As an elementary school student she watched her older brother Matt on the wrestling team and thought it looked like fun. When she began middle school and found that lots of people she knew were signing up to wrestle, Nesbit made the decision to sign up too. “Most of the guys on the team are my good friends that I grew up with,” she said.
Nesbit has been wrestling for three years. Her first year on the team, she was one of two girls. By seventh grade, three girls were on the team. As an eighth-grader this year, the KPMS wrestling team includes four girls.
Such a change was once unimaginable. But a federal civil rights law called Title IX passed in 1972, stating “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
“There isn’t a boys or girls team,” Nesbit said. When handing out the flyers for the team each fall, school staff emphasize that the sport is open to all. “They would say, ‘It’s highly encouraged that girls wrestle,’ ” Nesbit said.
Nesbit doesn’t let the gender differences throw her off her game. “Girls and boys have the same strength,” she said. Heading into a match, “I wouldn’t think about if they are a boy or a girl. I would think about their size compared to mine,” Nesbit said.
Grace’s mother, Anne Nesbit, observed the difficulty some boys on the team had with the idea of wrestling a girl. “When Grace first started there was definitely a reluctance to touch or get in. But as an eighth-grader, the boys do not care. A match is a match,” she said.
“Most girl wrestlers are treated like everybody else,” said friend and teammate Joey Geier. “Some of the toughest matches I’ve had were against girls.”
Not everyone close to Nesbit is so open to the idea of her competing on the wrestling team. “My dad has a real problem with Grace wrestling,” said Anne Nesbit. “Because it’s against boys and it’s inappropriate for boys to be handling her that way. And he doesn’t want her to get hurt.”
Nesbit is known as a tough competitor on the mat. At the district meet last year, Nesbit put a competitor into a half nelson.
At districts this year, she gave great effort but faced tough adversaries. “She came out to battle. She’s been that way all three years,” said Coach Spadoni. “She gives you all she has.”
“She kept trying to build up, but got knocked down again,” said Geier.
Despite her successes, Nesbit will not continue wrestling as a high school freshman next year. “It’s a different intensity,” Anne Nesbit said. “There are other sports Grace enjoys that are safer.”
Anne Nesbit views her daughter as a winner regardless of the outcome of her matches. “It’s such a boy sport. You’ve won just stepping onto that mat. Being a female, there’s so many who wouldn’t put themselves out there that way. That sets a tone for the rest of her life,” she said.
For Nesbit herself, life is about making the most of opportunities. “If your daughter wants to wrestle, let her try it. If you want to do something, always give it a try,” she said.