When you think of wrestling, it might be easy to think of it as only a man’s sport. In 2009, 44 males competed in high school wrestling for every 1 female. Despite this, popularity in women’s wrestling is growing, with a 240% increase in participation since 2009. Still at almost a 17 to 1 ratio, females remain vastly outnumbered by males in the sport. For Maxine Knetter, however, this disparity means nothing at all.
From a swimming background at Madison West High School, the jump to wrestling wasn’t what one would expect. Maxine, a Communication Arts major on the pre-nursing track, actually started her wrestling journey by practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of 17. From there, as a sophomore at UW-Madison, she decided to pursue wrestling for the first time ever. We sat down with Maxine to talk to her about her experience as the first-ever female on the Wisconsin Club Wrestling team and her advice for other women wanting to get involved.
Rec Sports: How did you get started in wrestling?
Maxine: I decided to try it this year for the first time. I’ve been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu for about 3 or 4 years and I wanted to do something on campus that is grappling-oriented like jiu-jitsu. I still do a lot of jiu-jitsu, but it’s nice to have something that I can go to when I’m out of class, and helps me meet new people at UW. It’s really nice to be trying something new, too.
RS: How did you get into a more “out there” sport like Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
MK: It’s actually not as out there as people think. It’s a pretty fast-growing sport. I started when I was 17, and a couple of my friends in high school started going to a gym for it, and I decided to try it one day.
RS: What have you enjoyed about wrestling thus far?
MK: It’s been fun. A lot of people think of it as more of a forceful sport but that’s actually pretty far from the truth. It’s very much a cognitive activity as much as it is a physical one, and so it’s fun to do something that’s both mentally and physically engaging.
RS: Are there many parallels between jiu-jitsu and wrestling?
MK: They’re actually pretty similar. The biggest difference has been learning the point system for wrestling. There are lots of different grappling sports and so each has their own respective point system, which makes the competition aspect a little more difficult. The objectives are the same for the most part, which makes it a little easier. If you know one type of grappling sport, it makes it a little easier to pick up another.
RS: How’d you get started with club wrestling here at UW?
MK: I found the contact information on the WIN (Wisconsin Involvement Network) page and sent them an email asking if [the team] is co-ed, and they said yes. It’s been very fun and they’ve been super welcoming. Everybody’s really nice and I’m learning a lot!
RS: What about wrestling has been most challenging?
MK: Definitely learning the point system of the competitive aspect has been difficult. It’s kind of like if you were playing soccer, but instead of getting points for scoring goals, you got points for hitting the corners or the crossbar. Not necessarily to that extent, but there are some subtle differences, even within different styles of wrestling. We do folk, but there’s freestyle too. In jiu-jitsu you get the same amount of points for getting on someone’s back as you do for hitting basically a pin position, and so that changes the way people defend things. In wrestling, people don’t really defend the back and it’s not beneficial to be there, so there are places where it feels different because people will attack differently and react differently.
RS: How did you feel entering a male-dominated sport like wrestling, especially knowing that you were one of the first women ever on their team?
MK: In general, I feel like the door is open for women and girls who want to get involved in grappling sports. In 2016, freestyle wrestling was one of the fastest growing sports in New York City. You see more females getting interested in these sports and if you know where to look and come with an open mind, ready to learn, you’ll have fun. You have to be okay with accepting that you might not be the biggest or the strongest in the room, but as long as you enjoy it, you’ll have fun.
I wouldn’t say I’m used to being the only girl in the room, since there are plenty of women at my jiu-jitsu gym which is super cool. Another thing that helps is that everyone at club wrestling is doing it for fun and because they enjoy it. Everyone is dedicated, but not to the level that someone like a varsity or even a high school athlete might be, practicing hours a day. We get together and practice 2 or 3 times a week, which really helps to take some of the pressure off.
RS: What advice would you have for girls who want to get involved in a male-dominated sport like this?
MK: Have fun. I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve just been kicked out of something for being a girl. I’m pretty lucky to say that, and I think nowadays most people are pretty welcoming. As long as you come in and are willing to learn, people are accepting. Don’t take yourself too seriously, like in anything.
RS: From your wrestling or jiu-jitsu career, what’s been your proudest moment or favorite memory?
MK: I really enjoy the people I’ve met. All of my best friends are people who I’ve met through jiu-jitsu or wrestling. If you find something you like, or something you love, you’ll find people that you have something in common with, and you can bond over that and form lasting friendships with those people. It’s fun to have relationships where you’re really in each other’s corner and you have people’s back and are supporting each other, whether it be jiu-jitsu, wrestling, or life in general. You just want to see each other do well, and that’s a powerful thing.
RS: Do you have any goals moving forward?
MK: I just want to develop myself and learn some more wrestling.
RS: Are there any skills unrelated to sports that you feel like you’ve developed being involved in these communities?
MK: I feel like with any sports or hobbies, it’s cool to have things outside of school where you can go and learn a skill and be able to try new things where it doesn’t really matter if you do well or not. You don’t have to be stressed about being the best or being the one setting the curve. You can just try it and be there to learn, not necessarily for scores.
RS: Do you have any final advice for anyone out there who want to try wrestling or any type of grappling sport?
MK: Don’t hesitate to try new things. You don’t always have the opportunity to do things like this, so do them while you can!
If you’re interested in joining Club Wrestling like Maxine, e-mail their president, Jacob Yatso, at email@example.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also drop in during practice to talk in person. They meet at the UW-Natatorium, Room 1065, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30pm to 9:00pm and Fridays from 6:15pm to 7:45pm. For more information, please visit their WIN page: https://win.wisc.edu/organization/clubwrestling.