Passion in the face of adversity and opposition is what separates those who think they want to do something from those who know.
Jessica Chapman has known since the seventh grade that she wants to be a wrestler. She was on the team at John Sedgwick Junior High School in Port Orchard then, but found out it wasn’t easy being a girl in a boys’ world.
“They didn’t want to coach a girl,” she said.
Instead of practicing, she was rolling mats and when the rest of the team was meeting, she said they met in the boys’ locker room and she had to sit outside.
“We had parents that didn’t approve of it and didn’t want their boys wrestling a girl so it turned out to be a bad experience,” said her mother Stephanie. “I totally understand the feelings of both (Jessica and those opposed to it), because I have a son,” she said.
So Chapman didn’t wrestle and instead played softball, and she was good at it. She made the varsity team in eighth grade and lettered that year, and she made the drill team that year as well. Drill team was something Stephanie said she never expected her daughter to do, but she was good at that too.
“She does well at everything she does, she’s just an athlete,” she said. The family moved to the Key Peninsula and as a freshman at Peninsula High School, Chapman played on three softball teams, made varsity as a freshman and lettered that year, too. But deep inside, Chapman’s heart still burned for wrestling.
She said she never went a day without thinking about it, longing to be involved in the sport.
“You should never give up on anything you can’t go a day without thinking about,” she said.
At first it was difficult to watch as her little girl entered the sport, but Stephanie said she knew her daughter wanted it.
“I decided I should get behind her in whatever she wanted to do,” she said. When Chapman heard about an informational meeting for the wrestling team at the beginning of the school year, she decided to check it out. She talked to the coach, Ron Cameron, and asked how he felt about coaching a girl.
“He was all for it,” Chapman said. This was Cameron’s first year as head wrestling coach at PHS, and though he wasn’t sure how the program had been in the past, he knew he wanted girls on the team. Chapman was the only one. “It’s good for the program and good for the sport and important for them in a world view philosophy,” he said. Chapman was getting discouraged about a week into practice. Cameron saw it, and said he could tell she was thinking about quitting.
“I said, ‘I know it’s hard being the only girl in this room, but when you get out in the world you will find yourself in the same situation. If you have the experience of being in this wrestling room for two or three years, it’s not going to bother you when you get out there.’” He knew she felt alone, but also knew what to do to support her and yet let her fend for herself.
“I said, ‘I could step in the middle of this but it’s not going to help you. I want you to show up for practice and go in that room and at any moment you can look over your shoulder and know I’m here for you.’”
Once Chapman knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her head coach wanted girls on the team, and was there to support her, Cameron said he saw her let her guard down.
“She started showing up and was just herself,” he said. “She wasn’t trying to be a guy and she wasn’t trying to be a girl trying to fit in with guys.”
He said some of the guys were neutral, some thought she was cool, and others didn’t want to wrestle her, but that is true of the guys as well.
“For the most part guys accepted her, but all of them don’t accept each other either, it’s part of the world and part of high school,” he said. “To some degree I think they will follow the head coach.” There were around 50 boys and Chapman at that initial meeting, and by the time competitions began the team consisted of 11 boys and Chapman. The workouts and practices were grueling, she said, but her determination and love for the sport kept her coming back.
Although she will wrestle on a girls’ team in college, Chapman said she enjoys wrestling on a boys’ team. “You get better, because they don’t go easy on you,” she said.
Wrestling is becoming popular for girls, she said, and at the state level girls can’t wrestle boys. There is an All Girls Mat Classic with enough girls participating to fill the 16 slots in all of the 11 weight classes.
“I think girls should fight for what they want and not let anyone tell them what they can do if you really want to do it,” she said.
Cameron said everyone expected her to place at state this year, but in reality it wasn’t fair to set that level of expectation.
“This was her first year wrestling,” he said. “She was a state competitor, and I would like to see her be a state placer next year. I could see her competing for the 1 or 2 spot in state her senior year. She has the determination and the character traits that lead to a state placer in the wrestling world.”