MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon High School graduate Vanessa Oswalt is passing along her skills and experience on the mat to up-and-coming female wrestlers in the area through her Mid-Ohio Girls Wrestling clinics.
Oswalt started wrestling when she was seven and worked her way up through the Little Stingers program all the way through high school, where she graduated in 2005. Although she never had much postseason success for the Jackets, she did go on to wrestle in women’s divisions on a national and international stage. She recently moved back to Knox County and began helping out with the high school boys wrestling team last season, but wanted to help out area girls as well.
“Moving back made me realize that the girls don’t have an outlet,” Oswalt said. “There’s so many girls that want to wrestle and there are no programs for them to wrestle — just giving them the light that they can wrestle with the boys, but they can do so much more with the girls.”
Even with the varied skill levels, the wrestlers worked on the basics at the beginning of the month and evolved to do some live wrestling by the end of the clinic schedule, working initially on stance and moving to advancing, to perfecting takedowns and securing the pin. Despite the focus on bettering skills and techniques, Oswalt said that was not the main takeaway she hoped for the clinics.
“First and foremost, I wanted the girls to come in and have fun and respect one another,” Oswalt said. “My expectations here was the more the merrier. I don’t care what your skill set is, just getting girls in the room and seeing other girls. You could see they were feeding off of it. You had skill levels of zero and some had been wrestling a couple years, but they still wrestled hard against each other.”
The Mount Vernon clinic hovered right around 14 participants, while the Marysville clinic had upwards of 20 wrestlers attend. Wrestlers from Mount Vernon, East Knox and as far as Cardington all came to learn the ropes during the clinics in Knox County in October.
The goal of the clinic, according to Oswalt, was to shine a light on female wrestling and get more girls interested, in the hopes of getting more girls in the wrestling room. Although girls are still outnumbered in most wrestling rooms, Oswalt said she hopes to see that ratio tilt and, even though there are less girls, that females can hold their own on the mat.
“We’re going to have to at least practice with the boys,” Oswalt said of her final message of the wrestlers at Tuesday’s clinic. “The more girls you can get out, the more you can practice with each other, but for now, you’re going to have to wrestle with the boys. It was just showing them that they can do it. If I can do it, they can do it too.”
For Oswalt, who wrestled when it was more uncommon to be a female wrestler than it is today, the sight of a gym full of female wrestlers continues to inspire her.
“It means a lot to me that these girls look up to me because I looked up to a female wrestler — Jessi Shirley (a wrestler from Northmor),” Oswalt said. “She was my inspiration and there were only a couple of us back in my day. Now, seeing a gym full of girls, it gives me inspiration to keep pushing for girls wrestling to be in our schools.”