We have often heard that life is a dance, but famed Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” For Madison Cox and Devyn Sand, learning how to compete in a traditionally male sport has been both nerve-wracking and exciting.
Although the two young ladies had never wrestled competitively prior to the season, which ended in mid-January, they were not new to being around male-dominated sports. Devyn had learned a few moves from her older brother and Madison was the manager for the middle school football team. After a little coaxing from the coaches, the girls decided the sidelines was not the place for them. They wanted to be in the middle of the action. They wanted to wrestle.
Walking into the wrestling room for the first time was daunting. Madison went to the first practice by herself. “I was the only girl there because Devyn had softball practice,” she said. It was not easy for the fellows either. “The boys were uncomfortable working with me at the time.”
The daily grind of wrestling practice is a grueling experience. “There were times where we thought, ‘what did we get ourselves into,’” Madison said recalling the hot room and endless physical exertion. Head Coach Zac Martin afforded them no special treatment. “In my opinion, coaching girls is no different than coaching boys. As far as practice goes, I don’t treat them any different. Team comes first,” he said.
Still, the girls never wavered in their determination. Racheal Gay, Devyn’s mother, said Devyn was injured at practice early in the season, but didn’t mention it. “I thought she was going to come out to the car and tell me she was done, but she never complained. The coaches told me about it,” she said.
Eventually, the boys warmed up to the young ladies and began to look after them. “If they ever saw us struggling, they would step in and show us how to improve,” Madison said. Now they are just part of the team. Devyn said, “The boys are really nice, and they stick up for us.”
This family dynamic showed when it came time for a tournament. “We had so much fun at practices, but when we were at a competition, it was time to get serious,” Madison said. “Everyone is a totally different person in the room than they are on the competition mat. You have to think smart. If you do something stupid, it could cost the team.”
Even though this was their first season on the team, Devyn and Madison were able to pull off wins early in their careers. In her first match, Madison said she was nervous as she faced a bigger opponent. They shook hands. The ref blew the whistle. Everyone went quiet. The two of them connected in the center of the mat. She set her grips and shifted her hips. Before he knew what had hit him, she had hip-tossed the young man to the mat and pinned him. It surprised her too. “I was like, ‘I just won,’” she said.
Devyn experienced the same nervousness in her first match. After an uneventful first round, it was her choice for position in the second. “I got top in the second round and turned him and pinned him,” she said. Martin was proud when the ref raised Devyn’s hand in victory. “It was pretty cool to see her get her first win.”
Devyn mentioned her favorite move was a hammerlock, a manipulation of the arm behind a person’s back when he is on the ground. Madison’s favorite move is the hip toss, a move she has much success with through the season. She said it only let her down once. One spectator joked referring to Madison, “Her hips don’t lie.”
When asked what it was like to pin a boy, Devyn said, “It’s kinda funny.” But being a young woman in a traditionally male sport does not come without its detractors. There was a tournament where a boy wouldn’t wrestle Madison for reasons unknown. And when the girls did beat the boys, several of them made up excuses as to why they lost. The most comical was, “She stunk,” prompting Madison’s mother, Kim Newell, to sneak a whiff. It was the boy’s pride that reeked.
Wrestling the boys paid off for the girls when it came time to wrestle other young women. Devyn said, “I thought it would be easier to wrestle other girls and after wrestling boys. It was.” Madison commented, “It was fun when we got to wrestle other girls. They understand what you are going through wrestling as a girl.”
This season has also been an adjustment for the girls’ parents, though they are glad their daughters participated. “It really took me by surprise how much Devyn took to the sport,” Gay said. “It’s definitely different when you think of what most girls are into. It was so much fun to watch them do their own thing and pick something out of the norm.”
Madison, an 8th grader, and Devyn, a 7th grader, said they both plan to wrestle again for Tift County. Devyn also plays softball and Madison plays soccer. Both of the girls have big plans once they graduate. Madison is looking to go into sports medicine while Devyn hopes to become a surgeon. Whatever path these two ladies take, the lessons they have learned on the mat will help them make it happen.