Originally created 12/16/01

Grappling with the guys



Tesha Thurmond and Ashley Brand get ready for the big event involving boys like many teen-age girls at Greenbrier High School - do their nails, fix their hair and keep an eye on the bathroom scale.

But the big event Thurmond and Brand prepare for isn't the prom or Saturday night at the movies. Thurmond and Brand pursue a less conventional hobby - high school wrestling - and they have to bite off their fingernails, keep their hair pulled back and reveal the normally classified information involving their weight at a morning weigh-in.

"The hardest part was getting rid of my nails," Thurmond said.

"And your hair gets ripped out by the mats," Brand said.

Such are the sacrifices made in the spirit of gender equity. Girls competing in sports traditionally reserved for boys are becoming more and more common at high schools across the country. The lessons learned are valuable to anyone willing to put in the work.

When Greenbrier started up its wrestling program this year, Thurmond and Brand didn't let being female dissuade them from joining the team. Despite the protests of a few parents and the slight misgivings of their own, the girls have been accepted into the fold of a typically male venue.

"A lot of the boys were shocked at first," Brand said. "They thought we were just joking."

Thurmond, a sophomore, is a sports junky who already competes in softball and track and field. Wrestling keeps her working out year round.

Brand is more of a wild card. Her extracurricular activities range from the dance team to modeling to the Miss Columbia County pageant. It was Wisconsin roots that prompted Brand to hit the mats - just as her father, uncles and cousins did in their prep days.

"I grew up with wrestling," she said. "I thought it would be fun."

Nobody thought they were joking when Thurmond and Brand took to the mats in their first junior varsity match against Evans on Thursday. Though each was pinned late in the first round, the girls were far from overlooked by their Evans counterparts.

In fact, they will never be overlooked. Every time they wrestle - in practice or in competition - Thurmond and Brand will face the intensity and focus usually reserved for champions.

"Any boy that has a girl as an opponent is going to try twice as hard," Brand said.

Their opponents Thursday concurred.

"Every guy worries that a girl is going to kick his butt," said Evans' Jeremiah Clemmons, who despite a 24-pound advantage on Thurmond got picked up and had his hands full with the 165-pound sophomore. "I listen to a lot of comics, like Damon Wayans, who say that pound for pound girls are the toughest fighters."

Wrestling against a girl goes against every shred of chivalry Clemmons was brought up to practice. Women are to be put on pedestals, he said, not slammed onto mats.

"It was a problem with me," Clemmons said after pinning Thurmond in 1:32. "But she's an athlete, and by not giving her a chance I'd be doing her more damage."

What did he think about Thurmond's effort?

"That was the toughest match I've had," he said.

With her long blond ponytail pulled up in a bun, Brand got pinned quickly in a cradle hold of Evans' Drew Kovacs. She used her flexibility to stave off a pin for 1:26. Her tenacity continues to surprise her teammates.

"When I found out Ashley was going out for the team, I was kind of surprised," sophomore teammate Michael Moore said. "I thought Tesha would come out and slam one of us boys, but Ashley acts real prissy."

Like some of his teammates who have to practice daily with the girls, Moore wasn't sure how to handle it at first.

"I was scared," he said. "I didn't want to grab her or hurt her. Now, I just wrestle her like a regular boy. She's one of us."

But the guys in the Wolfpack understand one thing every day they face Brand and Thurmond in practice.

"You better not lose, or they'll tell everybody," Moore said.

"It's more of an ego thing not to be beaten by a girl," senior James Walker said. "You don't want to hurt them, but you don't want to be beaten by them either."

Family and friends support the girls' missions, as mothers, siblings and even Brand's boyfriend were in the stands Thursday to see their first matches.

While watching their daughters wrestling was somewhat unnerving, Beverly Thurmond and Tina Brand resisted the natural instinct to run out and protect their children. Each mother expressed pride in the way their girls handled themselves - and a little blood thirst.

"I was praying, 'Please don't let him hurt my baby,"' Beverly Thurmond said. "I didn't want her to do it, but now that she's in it, I want her to kick some butt."

Until that day comes, the girls just enjoy being treated like one of the boys on the team.

"Coach (Russell) Schneider doesn't make us feel like losers," Brand said. "We get no special treatment - even with pushups. They're not giving up on us."

"We're just one big family," Thurmond said.

A family with a valuable lesson to share.

"I hope we encourage other girls to strive for what they want and don't be afraid," Brand said.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.