Arab's first girls wrestling team

Members of Arab High School’s first girls wrestling team are, from left, front: Reagan Golden, Ema “Smalls” Ivey and Madilyn Rodgers; back: Niya Turner, Maggie Whitaker, Sarah Roe, Autumn Boutwell and Freedom Harper.

Arab High School’s wrestling program, which dates back to the 1970s, has quite the illustrious history.

There are the eight state championships, tied for fourth most in Alabama, plus three more dual meet state titles. Included in the eight traditional state championships were six straight (2013-18) under coach Michael Pruitt – the second-best run in state history.

The 244.5 points the 2015 Arab team recorded in winning the state title is the second-highest total ever. There have been more than 30 individual state champions.

And don’t forget the run of 117 straight dual meet victories recorded by Arab between 2013-18, the second most in state history.

Now, a group of eight determined young women are out to make a little history themselves. They make up Arab High School’s first girls wrestling team.

Boys coach Kyle Routon is also coaching the girls. He explained that girls high school wrestling currently is an unsanctioned sport in Alabama.

Teams held a state tournament last season and will again this season, and next school year, girls wrestling will be an AHSAA-sanctioned sport, according to Routon.

That means all eight of Arab’s girls will have the opportunity to win an official AHSAA team and/or individual championship next season as this year’s team is very heavy to youth.

Madilyn Rodgers and Freedom Harper are juniors. Maggie Whitaker and Autumn Boutwell are sophomores. Sarah Roe is a freshmen. And Reagan Golden, Ema “Smalls” Ivey and Niya Turner are seventh graders.

All had interesting motives for taking on such a challenge – not the least of which was being a part of school history.

“As soon as I found out (Arab) was starting a girls wrestling team, I joined,” said Turner, who has wrestled in youth leagues since she was in the fourth grade. Her dad, Jacob Helton, also wrestled.

Boutwell came out for the team because Roe asked her to do so. The two have become pretty close in recent years, and Roe wanted to share the experience with a friend.

She’s the younger sister of defending state champion Caleb Roe. Her other brother, Josh, is also highly ranked in the state.

“I always saw my brothers doing it and always wanted to try it,” Sarah Roe said. “Autumn and I have been friends for a while and I thought it would be fun to do something like this with a friend.”

Boutwell added: “I thought it would be cool to be a part of the first girls team to wrestle at Arab.”

All the girls said the sport is harder than they thought it would be – and they thought it would be pretty difficult.

“I played soccer but it’s nothing like this,” Boutwell said.

Sarah Roe said even though she followed her brothers, she had no idea what she was getting into.

“I didn’t know because I didn’t see them practice,” she said. “I expected it to be hard but maybe not this hard. You’ve got to be in really good shape to do this.”

Whitaker echoed that sentiment.

“It takes so much conditioning,” she said. “You’ve got to be in shape, a different kind of shape.

“It’s so hard, many people can’t do it. But it’s so worth it.”

The team originally had 13 members but that number eventually dwindled to eight. The motivation for some to stick it out was the hope of earning a college scholarship one day.

If you stick with it, you’re guaranteed a scholarship,” Turner said. “There are so few women wrestlers.”

Whitaker also mentioned scholarship money but she has another motive.

“It is a boy sport and I want to go for a state championship in a boys sport to prove girls can do it, too,” she said.

Rodgers is an interesting story. Her brother, Christian Eaton, came out for wrestling late in his high school days. Harper was a Mat Cat and was going to do so again this season – until assistant coach Klay Cranford told her one day to come to practice.

“He wanted me to see if I’d like to ry it – and I absolutely love it,” she said.

Harper also is an interesting story. Her brother, Levi Harper, wrestled for Arab years ago and played a role in his sister’s decision to try wrestling.

“He and I wrestled around quite a bit when we were younger and I wanted to follow in his footsteps and maybe rekindle what we had growing up,” Freedom said.

Levi is 27 now and “probably my biggest supporter,” she said.

“Everyone else in my family laughed when they heard I was going out,” she added. “He went out and got me a pair of shoes to wrestle in.”

• The Arab girls finished runner-up at their own invitational last week. Whitaker won her weight division. Rodgers and Turner won silver medals and Boutwell finished third.

Roe and Golden each finished fourth and Ivey and Harper both finished sixth.

In the JV boys division, Jaxon Ivey and Caden Hilyer won their weight classes.

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