When Emmaus High School freshman Bliss Brunhoeber stepped on the mat, she was nervous. She had never wrestled in a meet before in her life. She thought she would forget the techniques she learned in practice.
But above all her worries, she had one that surpassed the rest — she was a girl that was about to wrestle a boy.
Being the only girl in the East Penn School District’s wrestling program, Brunhoeber easily stands out from her teammates. She is amongst boys who are twice her weight and size. However, she doesn’t allow her 5’ 0” stature and 108-pound weight class to set her back — in fact, she is empowered by the fact that she is the only girl on the team.
“The other sports I played were nice and all, but I never really enjoyed them. But with wrestling, it actually feels like my sport,” Brunhoeber said. “I think another big part about it is that I’m the only girl on the team, and I’m proud to say that. I want to serve as an inspiration to other little girls to continue to wrestle throughout high school so that there’s more of a female presence on the team.”
Although she only started wrestling in eighth grade, Brunhoeber hopes her time spent on the junior high team this season will be able to prepare her for the future — so far, she has been able to wrestle four matches, and has a personal record of 1-3. Her father and younger sister, who both wrestled, serve as her inspiration to pursue the sport, despite her minimal presence on the mat.
Today, she remains optimistic about her wrestling career; however, her spirits weren’t always so high.
“When I tried wrestling back when I lived in Oklahoma, the guys were not as welcoming,” Brunhoeber said. “I was also the only girl on the team. They made me feel like, not quite uncomfortable, but maybe that I shouldn’t be wrestling, and that I should just quit. So that’s what I did.”
Her past teammates made excuses so they didn’t have to wrestle with her during practice, such as faking an injury, and left Brunhoeber to wrestle with a stuffed dummy during each drill. Now that she wrestles for Emmaus, her enthusiasm for the sport has been reignited, gifting her the confidence to pursue the sport throughout high school.
“The guys on this team treat me like I’m a sister to them. It’s very welcoming. I feel very comfortable wrestling with them, and they are always willing to be my partner in drills,” Brunhoeber said.
Though only one other girl has wrestled for Emmaus in the past, other District XI schools contain a strong female presence in their wrestling program — most notably is Parkland, which has 13 girls on its wrestling team this season.
Freshman Jake Gross, a member of the JV team, believes girls should be allowed an equal opportunity to wrestle.
“I know some people feel weird about it, but I think it’s more that you have to think of it as just a sport, and if they want to play this sport, then they should have that opportunity,” Gross said.
Evan Camire, a varsity freshman, feels a girl wrestling team for Emmaus would be beneficial, mimicking other sports that separate the sexes.
“I think they should find more girls to wrestle so they can form an all girls league, so they don’t have to wrestle all guys,” Camire said. “It would probably make them feel more comfortable.”
However, Brunhoeber rejoices triumphs in her ability to participate on the boys team, seeking to prove that girls “can do guy sports as well as the guys.” Although she will move in the near future, she hopes to carry her high spirits to the next wrestling team she joins, reflecting on the unforgettable feeling from her first matchup at EHS.
“I don’t just like it. I love it. And when I got off that mat the first time [and] I pinned that kid, I felt extremely good about myself, I was so proud,” Brunhoeber said. “Wrestling for me is a big deal, and I want to do it through high school, and as long as I can, to be honest.”