Park City’s Rebekah Hardman competes at All-Star wrestling meet
Wrestling is a challenging sport to begin with, but it’s particularly tough for girls competing at the high school level in Utah, where Park City High School wrestling coach Tony Pelegrin estimates 95 percent of the competition (which is not separated by gender) are boys.
Nevertheless, Park City junior Rebekah Hardman loves the sport, and has worked her way into the top 10 percent of girl wrestlers in the state – enough to have been invited to the Dollamur Utah All-Star Duals at Utah Valley University on Jan. 8.
The annual event is an exhibition tournament that includes the best female wrestlers from around the state.
Hardman, an experienced martial artist who is in her second year wrestling, did not expect to be invited.
“It was a big surprise and a really good surprise,” she said.
She joined the Miner wrestling team when she was looking for a new sport after competing in jiu jitsu for five years.
“I’ve never really had that team aspect before,” she said. “I think that’s what I like about wrestling, is having a team.”
She is one of three girls on the Park City team, and said that, for the most part, boys are comfortable wrestling against girls.
But not always.
Pelegrin said sometimes boys won’t come out to the mat, and, for whatever reason, would rather forfeit the match than wrestle a girl.
“It’s happened already once this year,” he said. “It seems to be happening less, though. (Co-ed wrestling) seems to be becoming more mainstream.”
From Pelegrin’s perspective, coed wrestling forces the athletes to get over their gender differences.
“I honestly think it helps kids mature,” he said. “Wrestling is a fairly intimate sport, where it’s close contact. (But) it seems more uncomfortable when you talk about it than when you wrestle, because when you’re wrestling your mind is pretty focused on wrestling and not getting pinned.”
But not everyone is on the same page.
“Every now and then we get a few ‘fun’ comments,” Hardman said. “And those are the best ones because they just fuel the rage beforehand. Those are the best ones to get out there and show them what I can do.”
Hardman relishes the chance to wrestle opponents who, occasionally, underestimate her ability because of her gender.
“With the conditioning that she’s had, she’s stronger than she looks,” he said. “That’s helped her in a number of matches, especially with younger kids.”
Hardman remembers one match in which she heard one of her male opponent’s teammates say to “Put that girl in her place.”
Her place for that match was in the winner’s column.
“That’s just the most gratifying thing to feel, is knowing you can do something people say you can’t,” she said.
The All-Star competition pitted Hardman against Tenley Jones of North Summit at Utah Valley University center, which was by far the biggest venue she had competed in yet.
For the event, the staff turned the overhead lights off, and shined a spotlight down onto the mats.
“Walking out on the mat for introductions and seeing all those people coming to watch was terrifying,” Hardman said.
She said she didn’t wrestle how she wanted to, though, and lost 19-4 to her cross-county competitor.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I should have done much better. It was definitely a learning experience, and I’m glad that it happened just so I can learn from that, and hopefully wrestle better for the rest of the season.”
Now she’s looking to clean up her technique, and keep contributing to the team.
“I think wrestling is a really easy sport to get discouraged, and winning is a lot, but it isn’t everything,” she said. “I want to have fun this season regardless of the wins and the pins.”
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Dave Hanscom announced last month he was retiring as volunteer race director of the Wasatch Citizens Series after 30 years in the position.