Since she began wrestling at the age of 8, Dolores High School freshman Akima Edwards has occupied the unique role of a female squaring off against male competitors on mats throughout the Four Corners.
Now, thanks to a pilot program started four years ago at the Colorado High School Activities Association, Edwards has had the opportunity to compete against fellow female wrestlers in events that will become officially sanctioned next season.
“I started wrestling when I was 8,” Edwards said during a recent interview with The Journal. “I did pee-wees for two years and then I took some time off because I didn’t know if I liked it or not. Then, in seventh grade, I started wrestling again, and this year, I competed in high school.”
Because Edwards was the only female wrestler at Dolores High this season, she spent the vast majority of her season competing alongside members of her school’s boys wrestling teams at tournaments that featured mostly male competitors.
Although victories proved hard to come by for Edwards, the experience of competing against some of the best wrestlers in the state proved invaluable for the Dolores freshman, experience she hopes will serve her well during the remainder of her high school career.
“A lot of the boys were bigger than me and sometimes faster than me,” Edwards said. “Keeping up with them is kind of hard, but I love it. I love wrestling with boys.”
While Dolores head coach Grant Hobbs was initially unsure of how a female wrestler would fit with his previously all-male high school team, he was quickly impressed by Edwards’ work ethic and her ability to seamlessly mesh with the team.
(Edwards) is the first girl during the time that I’ve coached who has ever made a difference on the mat,” Hobbs said. “The other girls that I’ve coached were just there to learn (wrestling) as a self-defense tactic rather than really being competitive with it. (Edwards) fits in well with our team.”
After spending the majority of this season competing against males, Edwards traveled to Douglas County High School in Castle Rock to compete in an all-girls regional tournament that featured girls teams from around the state.
Competing in the 118-pound division of the regional tournament, Edwards scored a pin victory over La Junta High School’s Maizlynn Hastings and finished in fifth place in the weight class overall to earn a trip to the Colorado Girls High School Wrestling State Championship.
“This year at Regionals, I had a match, and if I didn’t win the match, I thought I wasn’t going to state,” Edwards said. “I lost, but then (Hobbs) whispered in my ear that I was still going to state. I was so overwhelmed with joy and I think I started crying a bit.”
After a long drive to Denver last weekend, Edwards competed in the State Championship at Thornton High School on Feb. 8. Although she lost both of her matches, she gained valuable experience that she hopes will serve her well in the years to come.
“Wrestling girls, their bodies are different, and I had never wrestled girls before,” Edwards said. “Doing a move on a girl is different than doing a move on a guy because girls’ bodies are different. (The state tournament) was a good experience.”
Now set to move into the first offseason of her high school career, Edwards will compete in track and field this spring and volleyball next fall as a member of her school’s varsity teams.
The freshman also hopes to compete in a few summer wrestling tournaments against fellow female competitors in preparation for next year’s high school wrestling season, which Hobbs hopes will include an all-girls wrestling team in the area.
“I’m hoping that (Edwards) paved a path to get some of the other schools – Dove Creek, M-CHS and Mancos – involved,” Hobbs said. “Hopefully, CHSAA will work with this part of the state and allow us to combine schools so we can get as many girls as we can and start a team.”
Asked whether she will miss competing against male wrestlers next season, Edwards said she is excited to lead the way for an all-girls team in Dolores before noting that she will miss practicing with male teammates on a daily basis.
“I’m going to miss wrestling with boys and being with my guy friends at tournaments,” Edwards said. “My boys, they are like family to me. They support me more than any teammates that I have ever had.”