- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) - Wrestling may be a male-dominated sport, but don’t tell that to Mary Nichols.

Nichols, 17, a Kennett High School senior, just won her eighth wrestling state championship title. She travels to Texas this weekend in an attempt to make the world wrestling team. Her success qualifies her for the National Wrestling Championship in Fargo, North Dakota.

“I never really thought to myself that I am wrestling boys,” Nichols said. “I just practice really hard, four times week. I keep working at it, and wrestling is what I love.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, about 5,000 high school girls wrestled last year, nearly five times as many as a decade earlier. But those numbers are low, since many states failed to report girls’ wrestling participation.

Nichols began wrestling at age 6, after watching her cousin wrestle for Kennett Middle School. She asked her parents if she could wrestle.

“They agreed to let me wrestle as long as I committed to the sport for an entire year,” Nichols said. “After I went to the first practice, I just knew it was what I wanted to do.”

But it wasn’t easy breaking into a sport that has long been considered male only. Some are troubled by boys touching girls, and male wrestlers grapple with the notion that they could be beaten by a girl and getting ridiculed at school.

But for Nichols, it’s all about the sport.

“In the beginning, the team didn’t really accept me,” she said. “After some time, they noticed I worked really hard and so they accepted me as one of them. Now, we get along like brothers and sisters.”

Tyrone Johnson, Kennett High wrestling coach, said Nichols has a great work ethic.

“During the many years I have known Mary, she has proven herself to be resourceful, hardworking and self-reliant,” he said. “From her days in the youth program to this senior year, she consistently worked hard and stayed focused on her goals, whether in the classroom or on the wrestling mat.”

Nichols had to lose 15 pounds to wrestle at 106 pounds, the weight class she feels she has the best advantage to win.

“My natural weight is 120, but I decided 106 is the best competition for me, because the boys are much stronger. At first it was hard to drop weight, but I started eating healthy and working out a lot.”

She finished the season with 26 wins and 12 losses.

“So many people told me wrestling was not for girls,” Nichols said. “I didn’t listen to them. I pushed myself, and now I have reached my dream of wrestling in college.”

That college is Ferrum College in Virginia, where she earned a scholarship on her wrestling talent. She will be wrestling on an all-girls team.

Nichols volunteers in a youth wrestling team, acting as a role model to aspiring wrestlers. She plans to major in special education in college and become a teacher.

“For any girl who wants to wrestle - you can do it, don’t let others bring you down,” she said.


Online: https://bit.ly/25cnFBn


Information from: Daily Local News, https://www.dailylocal.com

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