Our hats are off this week to the Choteau High School wrestling squad and coaches Sam Armstrong and Levi Guenzler. Choteau ended the season with only four wrestlers on the team, including Daysha McLoughlin, a talented sophomore who played flute and violin at Bynum Elementary School and who can sing like a bird. The coaches recruited her and wrestling manager Liberty LaValley, a junior, to join the team as the first female high school wrestlers at CHS. While LaValley’s season ended early because of an injury and then academic issues, McLoughlin — who had never wrestled competitively before — stuck it out and fought hard to learn how to wrestle and worked fiercely to increase her body strength so that she could compete against boys in the 120-pound weight class. While McLoughlin only had a few wins on the mat this season, she is a winner in our eyes for taking a chance and breaking into a traditionally male sport that has become one of the fastest growing girls’ high school sports in the nation.

Montana has recognized the potential for female high school level wrestling as the Montana High School Association voted earlier this year to add girls wrestling to the boys wrestling program. While girls wrestled this year against boys, the hope is that next year there will be enough girls out to allow them to wrestle each other rather than having to compete with boys whose upper body strength is often greater than theirs. The all-class state wrestling tournament next year will include a bracket for girls and, in this initial year, all girls who compete will advance to the state tournament.

It took a lot of courage for McLoughlin and LaValley to join the CHS wrestling squad even with the whole-hearted support of the coaches. Teenage girls aren’t known for taking chances. Many of them just want to belong and not to make waves. Both of these young women, however, stepped outside of the social norm and tried something new. They are pioneers for girls across the state, and McLoughlin, according to her coach, is already talking about off-season training, about summer competitions and about her goals for her junior year.

At the divisional tournament in Conrad Feb. 8, female wrestlers were on the Choteau, Chinook, Cut Bank and Simms teams. Those young women competed against the boys and some won and some lost. Rebecca Stroh, 7-17 on the season, placed fourth at 113 pounds for Chinook and will go to the state wrestling tournament this week in Billings. Mariah Wahl of Cut Bank narrowly missed a trip to state, placing fifth at 132 pounds while Harley Wade, 5-27 on the season, also took fifth at 103 pounds for the Simms Tigers.

We hope the advent of girls’ wrestling will open one more doorway for female student athletes to participate. We know that wrestling isn’t for everyone, but we are glad to see our local school district and our state giving girls this option. We know that there are people out there who do not think girls should be wrestling. We know there are probably girls who would like to consider this sport, but won’t because of societal pressure. We hope, however, that our community will embrace this new athletic opportunity for girls and celebrate their successes on the mat with the same enthusiasm as those of the boys.