Nevada Schools female wrestler is gutsy and driven

Marlys Barker
Nevada Schools female wrestler is gutsy and driven

Everything about Eden Highland says “strong.”

While the idea of girls taking part in wrestling isn’t an uncommon thing these days, it’s still a gutsy move for a young girl to take part in a predominantly male sport in Iowa’s school programs.

This year Highland, an eighth-grader, is the only girl out for wrestling in the Nevada Middle School program. There are no girls out at the high school level in Nevada.

Middle school wrestling coaches, Karl Corbin, who’s been coaching the sport at Nevada for 30 years, and John Pelzer, who’s coached 16 years of wrestling at Nevada and elsewhere, say of the girls they’ve had over the years in middle school wrestling, none have taken it to the next level — high school. But the two coaches both agree that Highland may break the mold for Nevada. Why? Because she’s driven, they say.

Highland, the daughter of Chad Highland and Trisha Highland, didn’t hear her coaches describe her, but she describes herself the same way. When she wins, she said, it’s because she has more drive. “I know I can’t just get tired and give up, so I keep going.”

She showed that at Nevada’s only home meet for the year, held last Thursday, when she had her first three matches against boys for this season — up to then she had only had two previous matches, and those were against girls. Last Thursday she won a hard-fought first match by a score of 14-12 in overtime. In her second match of the day, she pinned her opponent in 52 seconds. In her third match, which wasn’t too long after her second match, Highland got pinned in the second period by her opponent, after making a gutsy move to try to take him, but having the tables turned on her. It knocked the breath out of her, and she showed her fierceness as she pounded the mat in disgust right after the pin, and then continued to work to get her breath back to normal, all the while having the look of “I’m going to be better next time” on her not-so-angelic face.

In that one loss, however, she still had fans on the sidelines, including Collins-Maxwell’s only female wrestler, Malibu Brown, also an eighth-grader, and Malibu’s father, Ted. Ted wanted to impress upon his daughter that Highland was not out there trying not to get beat, she was out there trying to win, which is why she made the risky, yet gutsy move that led to her fall.

Highland got interested in wrestling when she was young, around 6 or 7, she said. Her older sister, Madi, was in Taekwondo at the time, and she wanted to do something similar, so her dad put her in youth wrestling. She moved away from wrestling for a little while, trying basketball, but eventually went back to the mat.

“I like the competition of wrestling,” Highland said. “It’s always good to know what’s coming and you have got to be ready for anything.” She thinks she’s figuring the sport out a little more this year, after a full season in middle school last year.

Jokingly, or maybe not, Highland said she likes to pick on boys and beat them up. She does smile after saying that. “I like to show them that girls aren’t just what they think they are; they can be so much better.”

Her wrestling teammates treat her well, she said, and they call her Ed, a nickname her dad gave her. “Calling me Ed makes them more comfortable, because it’s more like I am a guy,” she said.

And in the wrestling practice room, it doesn’t matter that she’s not a guy. Coaches Corbin and Pelzer say she’s treated just like everyone else and she works just as hard as everyone else.

Highland said boys sometimes forfeit to her or, in middle school since there are no actual forfeits, boys sometimes choose not to wrestle her. She wishes they wouldn’t “not” wrestle her. “Guys should be ready for anything and act like I am any other person or guy, because I practice just as hard and just the same as any other guy,” she said.

Coaches, however, do understand there can be a stigma for boys. and that’s why at that level, they give boys the choice.

Maybe boys just back down when they see Highland walk into a meet. She said she loves to walk in looking mean and intimidating. She’s got this face, she said, that she has whenever she gets mad about anything. It’s the face she has if she’s mad at a teacher, and it’s the face she has after a practice where she thinks she could have done better.

“My attitude,” face and all, she said, “comes from myself. You can’t really achieve much in life if you just give up. You have to strive to achieve.”

Her father, Chad, said it’s been exciting to watch his youngest daughter wrestle. He likes “seeing how motivated and intense she gets and when she loses, she really takes it seriously…because she wants to be better.”

Chad, Corbin and Pelzer, and even middle school athletic director at Nevada Schools Kody Asmus, all feel it would be nice to see Iowa eventually have boys’ and girls’ teams for wrestling.

“With (female wrestling) being a part of the Olympics, it would be great to get more girls involved,” Chad said.

Involvement is what would be needed, Asmus said. “If there’s enough interest and people involved, I don’t know why not.”

The Highland family saw a lot of interest in female wrestling in the state of Iowa when Eden was told about and entered the Female Elite Wrestling (also known as The FEW) Championship at Norwalk after the last school year season ended. She took third place in her weight class, and there were a lot of girls there, she said. She wants to compete in that again when this regular school season ends.

It takes guts to be a girl in a male-dominated sport, and it takes thick skin too. “I know sometimes people talk about me behind my back,” Highland said, but she doesn’t care that much. “My team is pretty confident in me,” she said.

And she’s pretty confident too. Confident enough to say without hesitation that she’ll be wrestling in high school. “I’m going to try it, at least for my freshman year.”