girls' wrestling
Rayleigh Fisher, the only girl on the Tuttle High School wrestling team, practices Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Provided)

A 16-year-old sophomore from Tuttle High School is seeking to become the first Oklahoma girls’ wrestling champion in the 147-pound weight class.

Rayleigh Fisher, along with girls in nine other weight classes, will spend Thursday wrestling at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds Jim Norick Arena.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Fisher is the first girl to qualify for the state tournament for the Tigers. Girls will compete on Thursday beginning at 11:30 a.m. Semi-finals will begin later in the afternoon, with the championship matches set for Thursday evening.

Tuttle High School’s wrestling program is one of the most decorated in the state. Reminders of their 17 state team championships and 17 state dual championships hang on the walls of the wrestling room, which also includes more than 100 individual state champions. Many say the Tigers have accomplished everything possible in wrestling, that is until this year.

Life as the only girl on the wrestling team

Fisher comes from a wrestling family. Her brothers are both wrestlers at THS, and her parents are involved in the sport as well. Being around wrestling since she was in seventh grade only increased Fisher’s desire to take up the sport.

So, when the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association announced that girls’ wrestling would become an officially sanctioned sport in the 2020-21 school year, Fisher knew she wanted to compete.

“My little brother Chance got into wrestling, and I’ve always wanted to wrestle since then,” Fisher said. “I really wanted to do it, and last year then my parents were like, ‘OK, you can start.’”

Even now that Oklahoma has made girls’ wrestling an official sport, that doesn’t guarantee a big turnout. On the Tuttle team, which has more than 35 wrestlers, Fisher is the only girl.

“In the beginning it was a little nerve-racking and a little scary, because I didn’t know what they were going to think of me, or if they were going to give me a hard time or bully me,” Fisher said. “But they’ve been really supportive, all the boys, the coaches — the town has.”

While Fisher competes against girls in tournaments and dual meets, during practices she competes against boys since she is the only girl on the team. While it does not exactly simulate what her matches will be like, practicing with the boys has its benefits.

“I do think it helped me become a better wrestler, because they’re stronger and they know a lot. They teach me stuff as I go along if I don’t know what to do,” Fisher said. “It’s been crazy. I’ve been taught a lot, and I’ve had amazing coaches and then everyone being so supportive, it helped a lot.”

‘A very fast-growing sport’

One of those coaches is Bobby Williams, the head coach and a former state champion wrestler himself.

Williams is in his first season as head of the program after spending five years as an assistant. He has coached Fisher since she took up wrestling and helped lead her to a state tournament berth this season.

“I was really excited, like a kid in a candy shop-type feel,” Williams said. “I think she’s adjusted well, and she’s got everything to gain right now. She has a really good mindset when it comes to wanting to compete and things like that.”

To Williams, the implementation of girls’ wrestling in Oklahoma is a step in the right direction.

“For the growth of wrestling, it’s super important. In nationwide numbers, we see a little up and down, but still inclining numbers. With girls’ wrestling, it’s a very fast-growing sport. For us to get it sanctioned as its own sport is super important for wrestling as a whole, girls and boys, it helps both,” Williams said.