Khaylie Ross had already received a full-ride scholarship for wrestling at Missouri Baptist University in seventh grade despite only wrestling for one year.
However, unlike most of the other wrestlers, Ross is a female.
Ever since she was young, Ross has shown a tremendous amount of interest towards athletics.
“My little brother wrestled. I always thought it was cool because the coaches would sometimes let me participate in the warm up because I was just there and had nothing to do,” Ross said. “But when I asked them if I could wrestle with them […], they said, ‘No, we don’t allow girls on the team.’”
Ross, who was desperate to give the sport a real shot, was unsurprisingly upset. She felt that she had to prove the coach wrong and stand up for gender equality.
“I felt like I had a point to prove that I could do the same things that guys could do. They had the rope climb,” Ross said. “I could climb it faster and better than all the other guys.”
Ross’ resilient attitude displayed itself as she and her mother searched for wrestling teams in the St. Louis area that accepted females.
Knowing that club teams, unlike high school teams, are not obligated to allow males and females to be part of their team, Ross knew finding a team that accepts females would be difficult. However, after numerous calls, Ross and her mother discovered the Mid-County Wrestling Club.
When Ross initially showed interest in the club, Mid-County only had males on the team. Nevertheless, it was soon found out that they accepted females and embraced diversity. Thus, when Ross asked the coaches if she could be part of the team, they were more than willing to let her train with the boys.
“They were excited that there was a female trying to wrestle,” Ross said. “It is pretty rare for females to wrestle.”
Initially, Ross felt a little out of place on the team as she was the only female.
“I didn’t really talk to anybody on the team. [The new people and I] just didn’t work out really well,” Ross said. “But then I got more comfortable, and they treated me like one of the guys. I was okay with that. That’s all I really wanted.” However, after practicing and being around the male athletes, she began to see her teammates as family.
Photo by Annika Sandquist.
“I got more comfortable and they just treated me like one of the guys. I was happy with that as that was all I really wanted. They would make fun of me for some stuff, but it’s nothing they wouldn’t make fun of the other guys for,” Ross said.
Although Ross ended up finding her place on the team, her untraditional role was often still apparent.
“Even at Mid-County, sometimes, I get treated differently because I’m a female,” Ross said. “I was okay with that.”
During her first year on the team, which was when she was in 6th grade, Ross only practiced with the team as she did not feel ready to prove herself on the mats.
However, the next year, Ross decided that she would begin to compete in matches. Since this was her first time competing, Ross, by state rules, was considered a rookie.
“I started practicing and I got more comfortable. By that time I was super cocky. Females can wrestle,” Ross said. “I made it to AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] State.”
Out of herself and the seven other male competitors from her weight class that made it this far in the season, Ross placed sixth. After being on the team for two years, Ross decided to leave her wrestling family and take a break from the sport.
In her freshman year at CHS, Ross originally planned on trying out for the wrestling squad.
“I asked [the CHS coaches] last year if they accepted girls and they said yes,” she said. “I had been debating it ever since then.” However, after giving it some thought, Ross decided against playing for the team.
“[Last year] I was still in that little phase where I was scared to wrestle. In eighth grade and ninth grade I weighed about 140. Guys at 140 normally are short and fat or tall and muscular,” Ross said. “I just didn’t want to wrestle a guy who I knew would crush me. My upper body strength is non existent.”
However, sophomore year, with her headgear still hanging on a rack in her room, Ross got the urge to head back to the mats.
The coaches were eager to see her compare to the other male wrestlers.
“[I was] very nervous. [I] wanted to prove myself. I would practice really really hard the first two weeks of practice to show them that I could be as good or if not better than the guys on the team,” Ross said. “Within the first week, the coaches said she’s practicing better than you all and you all have been doing this longer.”
Trenton Dickens, a senior at CHS and co-captain of the wrestling team, was ecstatic when he learned a female was interested in joining the “boy’s wrestling team.” (The CHS Greyhounds website still lists wrestling under the boys’ category)
This would become the first time that Dickens has shared the bench with the opposite gender in any sport in his life, and he was inquisitive as to how this new acceptance would play out.
“I was excited to see how she would stack up compared to some of the other guys. It’s been impressive. Everybody was a little apprehensive about working with her,” Dickens said. “But we are doing her a disservice to not go just as hard with her as we would everybody else. [We don’t] treat her any differently because the other competition won’t.”
The captain believes that with the addition of Ross on the team, the overall morale of the group has increased dramatically. Since her joining, the team has become closer as a family and has been able to wrestle with more success on the mats.
“I partner up with Kaylie a lot. I tell her what she’s good at [and] how she could be better. In turn, she is also better than me in a couple things,” Dickens said. “I try to learn from her as much as I can.”
Dickens admires Ross’ fight for women’s rights.
“It’s a male dominated sport. It’s pretty rare that you would see a female wrestling,” he said. “She goes all out. She works hard the entire time and doesn’t stop.”