SPORTS | March 9, 2018
Best of CPS features exceptional student-athletes with an interesting story to tell. These are students who excel on the court and in their communities.
Freshman Melissa De La Garza is the only female on Solorio Academy High School’s wrestling team and the second in school history, says her coach, Alexander Peacock.
“Melissa rarely competes against girls due to the lack of females participating in the sport as a whole,” says Peacock. “Her first win was actually against a boy playing for varsity, and that was only her fifth time on the mat.”
Just recently, she became a IWCOA State Qualifier and is scheduled to participate in the Girls Wrestling State Finals March 10th and 11th in Springfield, Il.
We sat down with Melissa to learn more about her personal experiences and hear about her future plans. The responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Name: Melissa De La Garza
List of Accomplishments: IWCOA State Qualifier
Q: How old were you when you first started wrestling?
A: I started wrestling when I was 14, but I barely wrestled last year.
Q: What or who inspired you to start wrestling?
A: I have to give a big part of the credit to Coach Peacock because he was the one who approached me and suggested I join the wrestling team. I will never forget the enthusiasm and excitement in his voice when he said, ‘You look like you can wrestle. Yeah for sure…You have to check out the team.’
If only I knew how far I would come since then.
Q: Who’s your biggest support system?
A: Although everyone’s first answer are “my parents,” mine are my biggest supporters. They support everything that I’m doing. Even if my mom is terrified that I may come home with a broken arm one day, she still supports me and wants me to do my best.
Shoutout to America, Nydia, Victoria, Arial, Dalilah, and everyone else who texts me before every match!. Whether I win or lose, they’re so proud of me. I know even at my lowest point, they want me to keep working hard, moving forward, and getting better.
Q: What is it like being the only female wrestler representing your school?
Surprisingly, it’s pretty lonely not having another girl to practice with and talk to. I never realized just how few girls there are participating in wrestling as a whole. During the season, I have only competed against, roughly, two girls. It just blows my mind that there aren’t more girls involved or something that informs girls about wrestling so more can get involved.
Q: Describe your most memorable match. Why that one?
A: My most recent match has to be my most memorable. I went against a rival female opponent who I wrestled in the beginning/middle of the season. She pinned me down in seconds and that day was definitely not one of my best. I went against her again and she made jokes that our match wouldn’t be any different than the last.
This time I pinned her and now I’m going to state. The feeling of victory and accomplishment was overwhelming. Even now, I’m speechless. All I can say is there was no better feeling than how I felt in that moment.
Q: How are you treated by the male wrestlers at your school and how do people react when you tell them you’re a wrestler?
A: The boys have never treated me differently. We consider ourselves a family, regardless if I’m the only girl. People always have the same reaction when I tell them I’m a wrestler, ‘*Gasp* You’re a wrestler?’ If I’m talking to girls about it, they give me their sympathy and say, ‘Good luck.’ When I talk to guys about it, they either don’t believe me or they think I’m a manager of some sort.
In general, people are just shocked and in disbelief.
Q: Some may say it takes courage to be the only female wrestler at your school competing in a male dominated sport. What are your thoughts?
A: I really don’t believe I’m that special for being the only female wrestler, but when you put it that way, it is crazy to reflect on. I strongly believe that there should be more girls in the sport. I remember when I first started wrestling. In our first team meeting I had never felt so many eyes on me. There were about 25 guys in the room and this small girl, me, just walks in. I was so surprised that more girls weren’t involved, but it’s understandable at the same time.
Girls are stereotyped. We’re supposed to be delicate and nice all of the time. I know a lot of girls who admitted they wouldn’t join the team because it ‘looks like it hurts.’ Wrestling isn’t for everyone and you not only have to be physically strong, but mentally strong as well.
Q: Can you think of a time where another girl has openly expressed the impact you’ve had on her? If so, how did that make you feel?
A: Yes, recently actually. My little sister is joining the wrestling team at her school due to seeing my progress and because she thinks it’s “cool.”
She told me she thinks I’m really brave for joining and staying after all the hard work necessary to wrestle. Hearing that I have that type of affect on not just anybody, but my sister, makes me so proud to be doing this. It makes me want to work harder, stronger and longer because I’m not doing this for myself anymore, it’s for her too.
Q: Whats next? How far do you want to go with wrestling?
A: I accepted the offer from Coach Jimenez from Dunbar to join the Windy City Ladies Wrestling Club. Next, I’m going to keep working hard, even in the off season. I want to be the best version of myself I can be for next year and the year after that.
I plan to pursue wrestling all four years of high school, even though it’s a big commitment. Once I start something, I won’t stop until I’m finished. In this case, I won’t stop until I’m the best I can be and I defeat everyone I lost to.