CHOCTAW — Choctaw wrestler Becka Leathers takes exception to the suggestion that she is competing in a man's sport.
“It's rapidly evolving into a female sport as well,” said Leathers, who is one of the top female wrestlers in the country and wrestles on the Yellow Jackets varsity squad at 120 or 126 pounds, depending on where she makes weight.
It's still uncommon to see a girl wrestling on a high school team in Oklahoma, but it is not rare anymore.
“Every tournament we go to now there is usually a female involved,” said Putnam City North coach Mitch Brinlee.
However, Leathers is considered the best female wrestler in the state since Woodward's Joey Miller, now a two-time national champion for Oklahoma City University's women's team; Miller, in 2005, became the first girl to place at the state wrestling tournament.
Leathers has won six national wrestling championships in girls wrestling, including the USA Wrestling cadets (15 and younger) title in Fargo, N.D., last summer.
She also earned All-American in the juniors division (for girls ages 18 and younger) last summer in Fargo, finishing fourth against the older girls and losing for the first time to a female.
“I am pretty sure she will win the thing next time,” OCU women's wrestling coach Archie Randall said. “She will win the junior nationals. She is pretty tough. If she survives this storm she is going through now, when she graduates from high school she will be one of the top recruits in the nation.”
The storm Randall is referring to is Leathers having to wrestle in high school against boys, where she is at a physical disadvantage. Many states have separate girls wrestling teams in high schools, but Oklahoma and most Midwestern states do not.
Randall, though, thinks that is not necessarily a bad thing for female wrestlers.
“The best girls I get in my program are the girls who wrestle on guys' teams,” he said.
Leathers, a 16-year-old sophomore, has defeated many male opponents in the past but has yet to post a win this season for Choctaw High School, which finishes its dual season Thursday night at Edmond North.
She has lost a couple of close decisions but has earned the respect from the coaches and wrestlers on the opposite side of the mat.
“Technically and toughness wise, she is as good as any boy out there,” Brinlee said. “Once girls get into high school, it's just hard to match strength.”
Leathers said every opponent she has faced this season has been stronger.
“Even when I pull a ton of weight and wrestle at a lower weight, they are still physically stronger,” she said. “Once you get up here and you are wrestling seniors and juniors and people your age just bigger than you, it's a little different.
“I work my butt off when I wrestle guys. It just usually isn't in my favor. When I wrestle girls, I can move them easier.”
Her matches usually draw a lot of attention because she is a girl, but Leathers would rather get the attention because she is a good wrestler.
“You have to be tougher and stronger and quicker to wrestle the guys,” she said. “If I didn't wrestle the guys all of the time, then I definitely would not be as prepared to wrestle the girls. I probably wouldn't have those titles (in girls wrestling) if I didn't wrestle the guys all of the time. It helps me a lot.”