As Zach Waycott circles and grapples on the dark green mats of Cloverdale High School Thursday, he doesn't let up on his practice partner like he once did.
"When we first started, I thought I had to hold back," Waycott said.
Until this year, Waycott, who has seven years of wrestling experience, never competed against someone like his partner before.
At first, he admits, it wasn't easy for him. However, now, he says things are different.
"Ever since the third day, everybody has gotten used to the idea of a girl being on the team," Waycott says. "So to the team members, she's just part of the team."
Cloverdale freshmen Brittney Hughes is breaking barriers at Cloverdale High School, becoming the first female wrestler in school history. A skilled gymnast, she possesses the strength and the will to compete at the varsity level. Although it's not always easy, and it took some time for Hughes to gain respect, her hard work and dedication is speaking for itself and opening doors for countless others in the community.
"She does everything 100 percent all of the time," Waycott says. "I think she might feel like she has to prove herself because she is a girl. So that might be why she strives to go harder than everybody else."
For Hughes, she would probably rather be on a different mat, working on a tumbling routine or doing cartwheels on a balance beam. However, because Cloverdale doesn't have a gymnastics team, she's working on her half-nelsons and head locks.
"Actually, I'm a gymnast," Hughes says. "We asked the school if they could start a gymnastics team. And they said they couldn't. So, I was the wrestling manager, and Coach (Brian) Siddons asked me if I'd be interested in wrestling. I said I'd try it."
Her father, a former wrestler himself, wasn't too keen on the idea at first. He didn't want to see his girl getting hurt, Hughes says. But after some convincing, he softened up, and now gives his daughter advice after matches.
"He's totally supportive," Hughes says. "He helps me. If I lose a match, he teaches me what I did wrong."
Siddons says she posses a natural ability and "moves like a wrestler," which was perhaps inherited from her father. He had approached her early in the season because of her build and size. He thought she would fit nicely in the light weight classes.
He wasn't sure she could coerce her father at first, but was happy to see her succeed.
"Basically, she came up and asked if it was too late for her to wrestle," Siddons says. "I said, 'no.' We had to fill that weight class, and we had been trying to get her out anyway."
Although Hughes has to gain weight to meet the minimum requirement in the 112-pound weight class, she boasts a 6-2 record. Granted, because of frequent forfeits and recent surgery, she has only actually wrestled in two varsity matches for Cloverdale. But nevertheless, Siddons said she shows promise.
"She was in position to win both of them," he says. "So I think she gets healed up and gets a little stamina, she'll be able to win some matches."
Hughes admits she was a little intimidated at first. She first wrestled a junior in her first match, and felt some nervous energy before the contest.
She wasn't used to wrestling an upperclassmen, let alone someone with experience at the varsity level. Despite the obstacle, she learned to calm the nerves and focus on the task at hand.
"If I am (nervous), I try not to be," Hughes says. "Because that just makes you not have confidence in yourself to win."
It's added motivation that Hughes thinks some people take her lightly because she is a girl.
"Sometimes, I think the guys want to go out there and mess with my head, just because I'm a girl," she says. "Sometimes, I think they want to go out there and pin me real fast. I just think they look at me as someone who can't do it."
Waycott admits some people give him a hard time about practicing with a girl. He says he's heard it all, with questions such as, "did you get pinned by a girl today?" and "are you wrestling a girl because you're a sissy?"
He says he doesn't let it bother him because the experience comes in handy. Wrestling in the 103-pound weight classes, he's already wrestled two girls this year in varsity competition and won.
"A lot of other people go into a live match, having never wrestled a girl before and they get stressed out," Waycott says. "Since she's started to be my partner, I've went against two other girls, and it didn't feel any different than a practice. I just went out there, and it was just normal."
The experience is necessary, especially for the lighter weight classes in wrestling where female wrestlers are becoming a trend. America Morris made national headlines on Dec. 30, 1985, when she became the first female high school wrestler to record a pin. Her story was picked up by the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, and even the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Wrestling is no longer a male-only sport.
Although some male wrestlers may find it hard to compete against a girl, they're going to have to get used to it.
"We had a kid a few years ago that lost to a girl from Terre Haute North," Siddons says. "He got ripped pretty bad. Nobody wants to wrestle a girl because you're always afraid you're going to get beat."
And look for Hughes to do some beating in the near future. With six wins on the season, she is already earning the team points for forfeits. It's only a matter of time before she starts pinning people.
"She's already got some moves, and she's pretty strong," Waycott says. "Next year, maybe the year after that, she might be pinning me some."
Don't expect Hughes to be letting up anytime soon.
"You do as hard as you can, until you can't do anymore," she says.