Girls' varsity wrestling team blazes a trail in New York
BAY SHORE, N.Y. - Amber Atkins, 27, has been wrestling since she was 10. Her father coaches the boys' wrestling team at Bay Shore High School in Suffolk County, Long Island. Now she is following in his footsteps and coaching the girls.
"When I found out that this girls' team was a possibility and the athletic director, Bobby Panariello, contacted me, it was kind of just like, 'OK, sign me up," Atkins said.
The Bay Shore girls' varsity wrestling team is the first of its kind in New York State. Practice started in November and goes through February.
Atkins said that recruiting members was easy because the interest was sky-high to begin with.
Gabrielle Baker, 15, spent four years on the boys' wrestling team before this opportunity came along.
"Having a female coach is amazing, especially since she wrestled here, so she knows what it was like," Baker said.
Others, like Avery Taylor and Kaela McLeod, are trying it out for the first time. They say the experience has helped them gain a better sense of camaraderie and leadership.
"I joined because it's a challenge for me," Taylor said. "I haven't done sports as challenging as wrestling."
"We wrestle just like the boys. We're basically just boys with longer hair," McLeod said. "That's it."
You don't have to go to Bay Shore High School to be on the team. Any girl between 7th grade and 12th grade who lives in Suffolk County is eligible to join.
The team's 20 members are from Bay Shore and six other districts across the county. Some have come from as far as Westhampton Beach to get their shot on the mat.
They've already competed in several tournaments across Long Island and in New York City.
"For every one of my athletes, I have a different hope. Some of them, I hope they go on and they do this in college," Atkins said. "Some of them, I just hope that I made a difference in their life, even for just one minute."
While New York has yet to offer a girls' state wrestling tournament, the determined athletes hope to work that way up to that in the future.