Josh Coughran shows wrestlers how to lock hands and lift an opponent for a takedown without falling backwards and committing an illegal move. Jeff Brady

Seven Skagway girls ready to rumble in Sitka

All-female state wrestling tourney this weekend

The sexual barriers were truly broken down last weekend with the crowning of the state’s first female 4A wrestling champion in a boy-dominated field, but many girls are tired of wrestling boys and would welcome the chance to see how they would do against girls their own size.
So when Sitka’s Abby Gillaspie decided to organize a state girls wrestling tournament for her senior project, there were several Skagway girls interested in competing.
Skagway wrestling coach Josh Coughran had Michelle Harris from his high school squad, and also tapped six younger grapplers who had done well at the annual Elks Wrestling Camp: Paige Hahn, Jestine Ellis, Kaitlyn Surdyk, Kaylie O’Daniel, Rori Leaverton, and Sydney Brown.
They have been practicing twice a week for the past couple months, and raising money for the trip to Sitka this weekend. Coughran and assistants Don Hather and Kyle Fairbanks have been teaching the girls the basics.
“We’ve introduced you to so many moves,” Coughran told the girls at a practice last week. “If you don’t like one, pick another.”
They start practicing on “shooting the ankle.” Harris works with Jestine Ellis. As they circle in the standing position, Harris urges on the protege: “You had me there...there!” and Ellis shoots and gets the takedown.
During another drill, Surdyk locks hands around Hahn, and learns from the coaches how to throw her down without hurting herself or her opponent.

Kyle Fairbanks watches Kaitlyn Surdyk shoot for Paige Hahn’s ankle.

On another mat, Brown, Leaverton, and O’Daniel take turns against each other. Brown, 10, has a slight weight advantage despite being two years younger.
“It’s fun learning new stuff,” Brown says. “I’m kind of scared (about the Sitka meet) except Mr. Coughran said I’d probably be taller than most of the kids I’m wrestling.”
O’Daniel and Leaverton are looking forward to Sitka and wrestling more girls.
“I prefer wrestling girls,” O’Daniel says. “The boys are too easy.”
Leaverton says wrestling girls will help her against boys. “One of these days, I’ll be able to take down a guy.”
She can already take over a room. At the Elks burger feed last Friday, she auctioned off a few hundred dollars worth of desserts.
Coughran said the girls will be matched up into weight classes after they get to Sitka. There will be competition for grades K-5, 6-8, 9-12 and an open division. The top three will get medals.
The girls won’t just be competing, they will be learning from the best. Gillaspie, according to an Anchorage Daily News article, was able to lure 2004 U.S. Olympians Teia O’Donnell and Sara McMann to the tourney. They were part of the first-ever women’s competition at the Olympic level, and McCann recorded the first pin for Team USA.
Sitka businesses and the local booster club are helping bring the Olympians to Sitka, and when word got out that they were coming, the numbers of participants started growing from all over the state. About 60 are expected.
Coughran said Gillaspie and her father, Steve, the Sitka activities director, have put together a great itinerary for the athletes. “It’s a great opportunity,” he said.

Hoop team wins in POW
The Skagway varsity basketball team was in the middle of a road trip to Prince Of Wales island this week. The Panthers netted their second win of the season in a split with Klawock, but lost their first game against an improved Thorne Bay squad. Updated results will appear in the next Skagway News.