Grace under pressure

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Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Grace Jones, a junior at London High School, helps two budding wrestlers with their form during the London Wrestling Club peewee practice on Dec. 3. Jones, who got her start in the sport at age 5, joined the high school’s wrestling team last year. She also wrestles on the Ohio Girls National Team.

(Posted Dec. 30, 2019)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

It was the first time Grace Jones was allowed to attend a wrestling practice. Her mother, Sherri, wasn’t sure what to expect from the toddler.

Would she get bored and find mischief? Would she get a burst of energy and make mischief? Would she see her beloved older brother, Jacob, getting flipped around by his opponents and seek vengeance?

All of those scenarios ran through Sherri’s head, and she knew that, with her youngest child, all were viable.

“Grace has always had varying levels of intensity,” Sherri said with a laugh. “So, I really didn’t know how she would react to this new environment.”

What Sherri never imagined, was that her daughter would immediately fall in love with the sport and later become a trailblazer for budding female wrestlers throughout Madison County.

Jones (top) wrestles as a member of London High School’s wrestling team in a recent match at Madison-Plains.

Grace was 5 years old when she announced to her family that she wanted to follow in her brother’s footsteps and enroll in the London Wrestling Club’s peewee division.

“At first I thought she was just being cute, but I quickly realized she was serious,” Sherri said. “I have to admit that I didn’t want her to do it.”

Sherri was worried that Grace, who had always been on the smaller size in her age group, would be hurt by the boys with whom she was practicing and competing.

At a recent match at Madison-Plains, Jones (far right) placed third, went 3-2 with two pins, and did it with a hurt shoulder.

“I was afraid, and she told me I was being silly,” Sherri said.

Grace badgered her mom for many months before Sherri finally let her enroll in the London Wrestling Club. Grace was one of two girls in the group of more than a dozen young wrestlers. Loghan Cromer was the other girl.

After weeks of practice and honing new skills, Grace faced off against her first opponent and was relentless in her pursuit.

“He was running around the mat, trying to get away from her,” Sherri said. “But she was determined to get him and she did. I think that was the first time she made a boy cry.”

It didn’t take long for the Jones family to realize they had another wrestling star on their hands.

“I think the moment I knew she had real potential to be great, that this wasn’t just a passing interest for her, was when I saw her drag an opponent by his ankle back into the middle,” she said. “She had such intensity and a determination to be taken seriously at that age.”

For more than six years, Grace wrestled throughout Ohio, garnering praise and attention for her tenacity and hard work. Then came middle school.

“That was a really awkward phase in my life,” explained Grace, who is now a junior at London High School. “I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere, so I decided it was time to step away from wrestling and try new things.”

She discovered a love for softball, but her desire to wrestle never really went away.

Jones (left) has enjoyed great success as a member of the Ohio Girls National Team.

In her freshman year, Grace joined the high school wrestling team as a statistician and was not at all content with her duties.

“I would watch some of the matches and just think about how much I missed it,” she said.

In her sophomore year, Grace decided to join the team as a more active participant. Her presence wasn’t entirely rejected nor was it entirely accepted.

“It took the whole team a while to warm up to me, but I always had a small group of boys who really encouraged me,” Grace said.

One of those boys is Darian Huff.

Huff, a senior, grew up wrestling with Grace in the peewee division and didn’t see a problem with having a female on the team.

“I don’t have a problem with anyone joining the team as long as they work hard,” he said. “And that’s what Grace has always done –work hard.”

In her first year back to the sport, Grace–who competed in the 113-pound weight class–achieved a 17-21 record and helped the team as they won the Div. II regional tournament.

She said she was proud of the success her team had but wished she had accomplished more individually.

“I think of it as my learning year, or my re-learning year,” she said.

After the season ended, she decided she needed to put in more work and joined the Ohio Girls National Team (OGNT).

OGNT was founded in the mid-2000s by Tracie Shore and her husband, George, as a way to help female wrestlers gain access to local, national and international events. Tracie said the program was born out of frustration. Her daughter, Olivia, who would go on to become the second female to compete at the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s state wrestling tournament and the first to win a match, was not given as many competitive opportunities as her male counterparts.

“There are a lot of people who kick up a fuss about girls competing against boys in the sport, but girls are not given many opportunities to compete against each other,” Tracie said.

While female participation in the sport is growing, she said most high school teams and organizations do not have the numbers to create all-girl teams, thus making them compete against boys.

“I think most girls would rather go up against other girls, just as I think most boys would rather go up against other boys,” Tracie said. “But if they think we’re going to stop competing in the sport just because they have to go up against boys, they are kidding themselves. We’re here to stay.”

Grace said her participation in OGNT increased her confidence and helped her to become a better all-around wrestler. She even took first place in her division at the Ohio Wrestling Association for Youth tournament in the spring.

“Those girls [in that circuit] are no joke,” she said.

In the off-season, Grace made the decision to compete in the 120-pound weight class during her junior year of high school competition. She credits Jim Wendler, the strength and conditioning coach for London’s football team, with helping her gain the needed muscle.

“I’m going to be going up against stronger boys, so I’ll definitely need it,” she said.

Grace said that many times the strain of wrestling has made her think about quitting, but encouragement from her family and teammates has kept her moving forward. So has the thought that she might be a source of inspiration for a young girl watching from the crowd.

That thought is what prompted her to become a volunteer coach with the peewee division at the local wrestling club.

“I didn’t have any female wrestling role models when I was growing up, largely because of the lack of attention paid to female wrestlers,” Grace said. “But I want girls to know that wrestling can change your life just as much as it did mine. It has given me confidence and strength, both mentally and physically.”

Grace said being involved in the sport is tough, being a female competing in the sport is even tougher, and being a female showing interest in the sport can be just as challenging.

“I was told that there was something wrong with me for wanting to be a wrestler, for joining the team,” she said. “So, I tell these girls that there is nothing wrong with them, that it is OK for them to participate and to be here.”

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