“It’s always fun to break stereotypes,” says Dutchess King, who is competing at state with teammate Quincy Onyiaorah
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (February 24, 2022) – In the four years since Dutchess King started wrestling for TF South, a lot has changed in the world of wrestling.
As a freshman, just joining the team placed her in the TF South history books, as King was the first ever female to wrestle a full season for TF South. During that year, King wrestled her way to a nearly undefeated season, pinning both boys and girls alike. Despite her remarkable efforts, however, her season ended with only conference-level tournaments. The regional, sectional, and state competitions were for boys only.
Making TF South and Illinois history
This weekend, as King — now a senior — and her teammate Quincy Onyiaorah take their places on the mats at the state tournament in Bloomington, they will be making history — both for TF South and for the state of Illinois.
“This year is the first of everything. A first-ever historical event in Illinois,” King said.
King, a senior, and Onyiaorah, a freshman, received a marching band send off Thursday afternoon — a tradition for State-bound athletes at TF South — before departing for Bloomington, where they will compete against the best female wrestlers in the state. The TF South Facebook video below shows the send-off:
King and Onyiaorah will be the part of the first class of wrestlers to compete at the state level in Illinois, which has previously only recognized boys wrestling. According to teamusa.org, Illinois became the 26th state in the nation to recognize girls wrestling when the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) voted to do so in 2020. The inaugural girls season started in the fall of last year.
According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, since 1994, the number of women who wrestle in high school nationwide has grown from 804 to over 28,000 in 2021.
TF South goes to State
“For me, it’s amazing because it’s my freshman year and I’m going to State, and I feel like it’s a great opportunity and I’d like to go more as I keep growing,” Onyiaorah said of the trip downstate.
For King, the chance is a dream realized: “I didn’t expect to get this far. I know it’s a predominantly male sport. I didn’t have any confidence that I’d make it to State. I know I was able to do wrestling, but I didn’t think they were going to allow me to do State.”
“When I came back for my senior year and they told me that I actually had a chance to go to State, I took it really seriously,” King said. “I put in the effort, I sacrificed some things.”
The state competition will take place at the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, with King and Onyiaorah competing on Friday and Saturday. Tournament information is available on ihsa.org.
Wednesday’s wrestling practice at TF South included the two state-bound athletes as well as some junior varsity male wrestlers. The group jogged, stretched, and did some muscle exercises before getting down on the mats located in the balcony of the old gymnasium. King and Onyiaorah each paired up with a male teammate for practice — a habit they’re used to — and wrestled.
Beyond the strength training and technique practice, another discipline wrestlers must learn is that of keeping their weight consistent. King is in the 100-pound weight class, and must weigh exactly or less than 100 pounds at her first weigh-in or she’ll be bumped into the next weight class and forced to wrestle girls heavier than she. The same applies to Onyiaorah, who is in the 115-pound weight class.
“I’ve been trying not to eat too much to be right on weight. I’ve been trying to work extra at home to gain a bit more muscle and stretch so I can be more flexible for when the time comes,” Onyiaorah said. “And mentally, I’ve been trying to get more sleep and meditate, and spend less time on my phone. I’ve been trying to get more rest.”
“The mental part — I just motivate myself. Everyone has doubts, everyone doubts themselves, especially with something big like this, so I just try to keep my motivation up,” King said, “The weight thing is so hard. With females, we have really high metabolisms so our weight jumbles up and down all the time. That’s hard. But it’s doable. We weigh ourselves literally every day.”
State and beyond
Though both student athletes are hoping to win at state, they’re also aware of the historical moment they’re entering into, and hope to appreciate and learn from it.
“I want to see other people and their skills and learn more. Before this, I would see people pulling off moves I’ve never seen before. It was just so surprising because I was like, ‘Oh, we haven’t learned that before, I’d like to learn that.’ For me, going to State is a whole new experience and I can’t wait to see how it is,” Onyiaorah said.
“Even just being there, even if I don’t win I’m going to still be happy I was a part of it because it’s history,” King said. “Things like this are things you’re going to tell to your kids, and they’ll tell to their kids. I want to win too, of course, try my hardest.”
Beyond State, Onyiaorah is looking forward to three more years of wrestling for TF South, while King is looking toward Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, a school whose female wrestling team has won two national championships in a row. Beyond college, King is considering pursuing fighting as a career, perhaps in boxing or UFC-style fighting.
King also has a word of advice for young girls interested in fighting: “Just do it. Girls like to fight. They have fire in them. This is a sport where you can release anger and break stereotypes. It’s always fun to break stereotypes.”
“It’s an experience you will remember forever. If you’re beating up boys, you’re going to be happy about that. Especially seeing their face after you beat them,” she said.
The IHSA Girls wrestling tournament’s first round starts at 8:30 a.m on Friday.
- TF South Boys Basketball’s season ends at regional semi-final (February 23, 2022)