Girls wrestling has been growing over the past few years and a lot of that momentum started here in the Quad Cities.
Jason Loyd has advocated for girls wrestling for about 10 years.
He says the numbers are climbing locally, at the state level and nationally.
Eleven-year-old Karlena Buford is an Iowa girls state wrestling champ.
“I was scared but at the same time I was really convinced that I could do this,” she says.
That title didn’t exist when Buford first started in the sport three years ago.
“There were fewer opportunities as far as tournaments because a lot of tournaments don’t have girl divisions,” says Karlena’s mom, Tracy Coleman-Buford.
Jason Loyd first ran into the problem about a decade ago, when a girl walked onto his team.
“To tell you the truth I wasn’t really happy and thrilled with how she was treated or provided for so it kind of made me an advocate,” Loyd says.
A few years later, Loyd created the QC Girls Wrestling Club.
“It validated them, it gave them a mat of their own. It wasn’t even something that they necessarily had to share and be a side show to the boys,” says Loyd.
In 2017, he saw their work gaining recognition; for the first time, there was a girls division at the Amateur Athletic Union’s state tournament in Iowa.
“When we watched those first girls come out in the grand march and we saw how many there was, it really took people’s breath away. That was really a whoa moment for me,” Loyd says.
Loyd is now the girls wrestling director for the AAU at the state and national levels.
“Every AAU event nationally now has a girls divison,” he says.
“They get to wrestle other states and that’s pretty cool to see it grow like that and give these opportunities that the boys had had for a long time, my own sons had for a long time,” says Loyd.
Girls’ participation in the Iowa AAU tournament has tripled since 2017 And this year, the Iowa High School Athletic Association added a girls division to their tournament.
“It was nice to see and show our daughters like, ‘Hey, this is what you can look up to is competing at the high school level and competting with girls in college and beyond,” says Kelly Vrana, whose 8-year-old daughter started wrestling two years ago.
Loyd says these girls are changing the world of wrestling.
“Not only going to be an attribute to wrestling, I think they’re going to be the salvation of wrestling,” he says.
A decade after one girl’s fight to get to the matm another is able to conquer it.
“Her match was three seasons of her chasing this dream,” says Coleman-Buford.
And hundreds more are now making a place for others.
“Follow your heart and if you want to do it we’ll welcome you and we’ll hope you can join,” says 8-year-old Ava Vrana.