Bayonne High School secured its place in the history books last night by scoring a victory in Hudson County’s first ever girls wrestling dual meet.
According to Len Smith, a wrestling coach for the Bayonne Bees, girls have been part of the boys program for years, but last year was the first time New Jersey allowed for girls- only squads.
He credited Princeton University wrestling coach Chris Ayers, whose own daughter wrestles, for petitioning the state to allow for girls’ matches and the state responded by sanctioning a state tournament last year.
“Most teams, since the beginning, don’t have an actual budget for wrestling and the girls have just been piggy backing off the boys program, but I think you are going to see next year teams getting budgets for both boys’ and girls’ teams,” Smith said.
“I expect this to be only the beginning. It is way overdue … we’ve had girls basketball, girls soccer, and wrestling has only been part of the boys’ program until a year ago. New Jersey is now the 12th state in the country to sanction girls wrestling.”
Smith was a successful wrestling coach in Pequannock for 40 years, racking up over 400 wins. He was enjoying retirement until Bayonne’s head wrestling coach, Jared Luciani, asked him to come out of retirement to lead the effort of coaching girls.
“You’re going to see a lot of coaches getting recycled as the girls’ teams expand because they’re going to need coaches. It’s an exciting time,” he added.
Luciani has been the coach for the past four years and he expects the number of girls on the wrestling team to grow from the current 10 on the roster to perhaps as many as 20 to 25 next year.
Before the state sanctioned a tournament last year to allow for girls only dual meets, the girls on the Bayonne Bees team were actually wrestling against boys at the junior varsity level.
“A lot of times the girls would wrestle with the boys, and it just seemed like it was such a disadvantage for the girls. They had great technique, they were doing everything right but the boys were just outmuscling them sometimes,” Luciani recalled.
“But now all the girls are wrestling other girls. This is the first time that there has been a girls dual meet in Hudson County. The other Hudson County schools are starting to get more girls and we hope the trend just keeps on growing.”
Somaia Elokdea started wrestling last year as a freshman but had to go up against boys because it was before the state sanctioned girls dual meets.
“This year it’s completely evolved … I went to my first girls tournament where I had some of my first girls matches and I’m seeing on every team one or two girls when last year there was basically no one,” said Elokdea.
Elokdea gravitated towards wrestling because someone once told her after she expressed interest in joining the wrestling team that she wouldn’t do it, so she wanted to prove them wrong.
She said wrestling has helped her with so much, such as becoming a better person and becoming more disciplined.
She believes that wrestling overall has a lot of benefits for girls because it empowers them.
“We live in a society where it likes to lower girl’s standards and truly proving that you can be better than a boy helps a lot of girls’ self-esteem and I’ve seen many of the girls on my team grow from small woman to truly confident, amazing people.
“That’s why I think a lot of girls should wrestle,” said Elokdea.
At first her parents weren’t very supportive of her wrestling, especially on an all-boys team, but now that the playing field has been evened, they are singing a different tune.
“I had to beg my parents to do this, but they finally let me. And now that they see what I can do, they are 100 percent supportive,” Elokdea said.
The Bayonne Bees competed against the Perth Amboy Panthers in six different weight classes and the Bees emerged victorious by a score of 24 to 18.