Hannah McElroy, the lone female wrestler on Sumter High School's varsity wrestling team, signed on with Presbyterian College's nascent women's wrestling team on Friday.
McElroy said she became interested in the male-dominated sport because of her …
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McElroy said she became interested in the male-dominated sport because of her almost 10 years in martial arts.
"When I was 9 years old, I started doing martial arts, and I was doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is similar to wrestling. When I got to high school, I had the opportunity to do wrestling, and I fell in love with it. I just said I wanted to do it and they let me do it."
For McElroy, the daughter of Craig and Tansy McElroy, martial arts was the more interesting alternative.
"I was in Girl Scouts, and my brother was in karate," she said. "I got sick of Girl Scouts, so I went with him to karate and they put me in the jiu-jitsu class.
"I've been in a guy's sport my whole life, so it hasn't been a problem for me," McElroy said of going out for the boy's team. "If I hadn't been doing that, I'm sure it would have been a lot more intimidating than it was and I might not have stuck with it.
"There have been a couple of peers that were like 'Eh,' about working with me, but they had no problem with my being there, and the coaches were totally supportive," she said.
McElroy said she commands a bit of respect from her male opponents, even if they don't expect her to beat them.
"A lot of guys don't think I'm as strong or as stubborn as they are on the mat," she said. "They'll come over and shake my hand afterward and say, 'You were actually a really good opponent.' Some of them think, 'Oh, it's just a girl, I can handle her,' and then a lot of times it's a pretty good match."
McElroy said it had been a tough go against her male counterparts, but wrestling against girls in tournaments sanctioned by USA Wrestling, she has seen quick success.
"There is a size difference between girls and guys even if you're the same weight, there's a muscle difference no matter what," she said. "Against girls I've done really well. My first year wrestling, I got first in state, and my second year wrestling I got third."
McElroy's coach at Sumter High, Josh Williams, who is now a wrestling and football coach at Lakewood, said it wasn't unusual for him to have a girl on the boys team.
"Here at Sumter High, I always had a girl on the team," Williams said. "The first one would still be here as a senior, but her family was military. It's not unusual for me or unusual anywhere anymore. Wrestling's really taken off and a lot of girls are joining in."
Williams attributed that to the success of the women's national team and the recognition garnered by Helen Maroulis.
"A lot more kids are getting involved, and girls sports are on the rise," Williams said.
Williams said McElroy was an asset to the team.
"She's a great athlete, a great young woman and she's going to do great in college," he said. "Any time we had something to do she was always there - fundraising, she always showed up. Her schedule was a lot more demanding because she'd have to wrestle in guys matches on Friday and Saturday, and then on Sunday wake up and go wrestle in girls tournaments.
"We'd go down to Charleston, and up to Rock Hill for a tournament, and there would be girls wrestling from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia," he said. "And they didn't really group them into weight classes, so they'd be wrestling kids that were 10-15 pounds heavier than she was. But those tournaments got her ready and she was first in the state her first year and third this year. Pretty good for only two years."
McElroy said she had a couple of offers, but chose Presbyterian because it's not too far away and she had a lot of respect for Blue Hose coach Mark Cody.
"He's super nice and is really trying to get a team together," she said. "He has an impressive resume -- used to coach at a couple of high-level colleges, he has coached Olympic athletes, and he's coached UFC fighters for their wrestling, so I was really into him and the school, and it was a really good fit."
McElroy plans to study early childhood education at Presbyterian. She joins fellow Gamecock Eliza Ackerman at PC, who will be a part of the school's first tumbling team.
Williams said girls wrestling is on the rise, and he hopes other girls will take an interest, not only for the scholarship opportunities but also for the discipline and mental toughness it demands.
"I guarantee within a few years, most of the schools with wrestling teams will be leaning toward starting women's teams," he said. . There are opportunities to get scholarships, but more importantly, wrestling is the sport that best prepares athletes for life. It's the toughest sport - six minutes on the mat is the hardest thing you'll ever do."
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