Excitement builds as Plum joins growing girls wrestling movement

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Sunday, July 17, 2022 | 11:01 AM


When it became official last month that Plum will sanction a girls wrestling program, Saphia Davis was excited, but she was not 100% sure of the validity of the news.

“When my dad told me the news, I was like, ‘Are you joking with me?’ But he was being serious, and it was such a good feeling to hear that,” said Davis, a rising freshman at Plum.

“We’ve really wanted this. This will level the playing field for girls who want to wrestle. There’s been a great response.”

Davis, along with club state champion Alaina Claasen and Madison Killmeyer, also rising freshmen, wrestled for the Plum junior high team this past winter and made strides in their own personal development as well as brought more attention to the possibility of a full-fledged girls program.

Plum boys wrestling coach Mike Supak pushed the original request for a girls wrestling program through to then-athletic director Josh Shoop. Current AD Brian Miller, Supak added, continued to work with the Plum wrestling contingent.

A proposal was presented, with the help of superintendent Dr. Bendan Hyland, to the school board, which voted in the affirmative to get the ball rolling on the program.

Supak said there has been a lot of energy and excitement in these first few weeks since the program’s approval, and the next steps include hiring a head coach soon and finding out what a possible schedule for dual matches and tournaments could look like.

“The guys in charge at Sanction PA were very helpful in making sure our presentation was as complete as possible with statistics that showed there is an opportunity there,” Supak said.

“They gave us information about Title IX, and there were just a lot of other facts that we were able to use that helped us show it was a good thing to do. We have a strong core of girls who will be instrumental in getting the program off the ground, and the board recognized that.”

Plum is one of seven WPIAL schools to sanction girls wrestling within its athletic department.

District 3’s JP McCaskey was the first school in the state to sanction girls wrestling in March 2020. North Allegheny got things started for the WPIAL two months later.

Canon-McMillan followed as the second WPIAL school in October 2021, and the Big Macs and Tigers participated in the first WPIAL girls wrestling match just two months later.

Connellsville (November 2021), Kiski Area (December 2021) and Southmoreland (January 2022) also sanctioned programs, and Plum was the 47th Pennsylvania school overall to do so.

Fort Cherry is the most recent WPIAL school to join the list. It was the 50th school overall, marking the halfway point to the 100-school goal for the PIAA to sanction girls wrestling as an official varsity sport with a state championship.

District 10’s Saegertown approved a girls wrestling program Monday, becoming school No. 54.

In February, girls wrestling was granted emerging sport status by the PIAA. Sanction PA said the move “gave (girls wrestling) a clear plan and path for being a sanctioned sport by the PIAA.”

Supak said the schools in the WPIAL and throughout the state have seized upon the interest that has also seen individual girls competing on boys varsity teams for several years. Those numbers included Shelby Novak, who wrestled for Plum as a senior and graduated in 2011.

“I know a lot of younger girls who are wrestling, and could possibly wrestle for Plum,” Novak told the Tribune-Review at the time. “I feel there should be more female wrestlers.”

Novak’s hopes for Plum are now becoming a reality.

Several Plum girls wrestlers, including Davis, attended a recent girls camp at Gannon University. Davis said the experience only created a bigger buzz and generated more energy for girls wrestling in Pennsylvania.

“We were able to make a lot of new friends from so many different places,” said Davis, who placed fourth in her 112-pound weight class at the Break the Chains tournament June 12 in Cheswick.

“It was nice to see everyone else’s game plan and talk about what our schools are doing to build up our programs. There were a number of girls at the camp who hadn’t wrestled for a few years and are coming back. That’s the kind of thing we have at Plum.”

The Plum girls wrestlers who are rising freshmen, Mustangs junior high coach Brian Walker said, will have the option of competing for the high school team or remaining at the junior high level for one more season.

“It is pretty cool to see this taking off at Plum,” Walker said. “The interest is there, and there is a nice foundation of good wrestlers. I am excited to see this develop over the next couple of weeks and months.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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