BRICK – As the only female wrestler on a township Recreation league, Hannah Marks, 13, said she was drawn to the sport because it makes a person physically and mentally stronger.
“It gives you self-confidence,” she said before a recent practice at Brick Memorial High School. “I’m very competitive, so it gives me self-esteem and happiness because it’s fun working out, knowing you’re gonna get better and better.”
She said it would be fun if there were more girls on the team, but she said “they’re out doing more girly things.”
There are a few other girls on the Veterans Memorial Middle School wrestling team, she said. The girls tend to go easier on you, “they tend to be less aggressive – they don’t slam you to the ground,” Hannah said.
Director of Recreation Dan Santaniello said he thinks she will be able to compete because girls have an advantage at Hannah’s age since they tend to gain adult strength before boys.
“But at the high school level, the tide turns and boys have the advantage,” he added.
Last year the Recreation Department saw its first girl wrestler, an 8-year-old who signed up for Intro to Wrestling, but Hannah is the first girl who is participating in a traveling league, he said.
Brick has been well-known for decades for winning wrestling tournaments at the state level, so signing up for the sport could be intimidating, he said.
“It’s a great ice-breaker. It will be easier for girls because of what [Hannah] just did,” Santaniello said.
One of Hannah’s wrestling coaches Tony Nash said Hannah is keeping up with the boys.
Nash said that Brick High School had a girl wrestler on the team around 2000, but she received a lot of forfeits from boys who refused to wrestle her.
“I really believe you need to separate them at the high school level,” he said. “[Hannah] is doing great, but I don’t think the boys go full out. Most parents instill in their children to treat the girls right and don’t put your hands on them. This is the complete opposite,” Nash said.
Hannah agrees that the boys don’t go full force on her.
“But I say, keep quiet and let me do my job,” she said. “I’m excited to prove that girls can do anything boys can. If I have to wrestle one of them, they deal.”
The only downside of wrestling is losing, she said.
“It hurts mentally, but most of the time I get over it and just try to get better,” she said.
Hannah has the full support of her mother Jackie, and father Timothy, who has taught social sciences at Brick High School for 16 years.
“I was surprised that she wanted to wrestle. I encourage her,” said Jackie. “It’s good for her. It gives her a physical range because most of the sports she does are cardio. This sport gives her strength and self-confidence, and the fact that she’s taken to it so well is rewarding.”
Hannah’s team, Jersey Shore Youth Wrestling League, has 18 weight classes ranging from 52 pounds to 160 pounds.
The traveling team starts competing in December and the season runs until February.