Women grapple their way into the ring
By Vanessa Piccinin
Women have once again made a positive stride towards athletic equality, gaining recognition as varsity athletes in the male-dominated world of wrestling.
Unfortunately, women's participation and growing interest in the sport has caused some controversy. Although females are an obvious minority, they receive a lot of media coverage. Some of their male counterparts don't appreciate this and the fact women don't require experience to play at the varsity level.
Another exciting breakthrough for the sport is that the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union will recognize women's wrestling as an official sport next season.
This is great news for two-time provincial junior champ Belinda Chou, who is in her first year at Western. In high school, Chou was the first female to wrestle with the Metro Toronto Wrestling Club and got to participate at the university level. Without female teammates, she had to train against males at the high school level and now with the Mustangs, Chou finds herself training again with men since teammate Anne Guzman is currently sidelined with an injury.
Although a small number of women showed interest in joining the team, only Chou has officially become a member. However, the lack of female participation doesn't bother her, as she feels welcomed and challenged by her teammates.
"The guys are really supportive," she said. "I try to get as much as they do out of every workout."
When asked about the future of the sport, Chou commented that she is very pleased the CIAU has recognized the interests of women athletes.
"Hopefully in the near future, as more women get involved, they will also have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics," she said.
Chou has already made two semi-final appearances in the junior nationals in the last two years, placing fourth and third respectively.
Mustang Keith Bannon is accustomed to having female teammates, as he has been on a co-ed team for four years and is very supportive of the program.
"It brings a diversity and recognition to the sport and makes it more mainstream," he said. "I don't think women will see a difference. They were always competing for the pride, for the recognition".
Overall, the team has a lot of potential. Bannon, a second-year athlete returns after a fourth-place finish at the Ontario University Athletics' finals last year. Scott Proctor who placed second at both the OUAs and the CIAUs, is a contender for gold this year, while on the women's side, Guzman, who placed second at the OUAAs last year, is expected to return for a fourth season after recovering from wrist surgery. Although Western has lost a few good wrestlers, they have a number of promising rookies, more than half competing at the Ontario championships.
"They're incorporating into the program," Bannon said. "They'll be needed as we'd like to maintain our third-place finish at the OUAs and improve our sixth at the CIAUs."
Western coach Ray Takahashi feels both the men and women should compete well in the long season which runs until March.
"The women's team is strong, but few," he said, "While the men should place respectably this season with another year of experience. It should be interesting come championship time."