Lauren Wolfe paces so intently before each of her wrestling matches that she sometimes gives herself shin splints. As she goes through a repertoire of moves in her mind, she tries to envision what the next six minutes will be like. She allows nothing to disturb her concentration—not her algebra assignment; not her parents, sitting with camcorder at the ready; and not, above all, those other spectators, the ones whispering behind cupped hands.
Lauren, a sophomore at Okemos ( Mich.) High, wishes that everyone would simply view her as another competitor. At 15 she is among the best of the approximately 200 female high schoolers wrestling on boys' teams in the U.S. Though she is struggling this season with a 13-9 record as Okemos's 112-pounder, she is undefeated in women's national and international competition over the past three years, and on Jan. 31 she won her weight class at the largest women's freestyle wrestling tournament in the world, in Tourcoing, France.
Lauren began wrestling in the fifth grade, and she continued wrestling through junior high. "It's totally accepted since everybody's so used to having Lauren around," says teammate Mike Fortino, also a sophomore.
But outside the Okemos High wrestling room the topic of girls wrestling boys raises passionate objections. Lakewood High in Lake Odessa, Mich., twice forfeited its bouts against Lauren because the Lakewood wrestler at her weight balked at facing a female opponent. Lakewood coach Bob Veitch said that if his wrestler were to win, the reaction would be, "So what? You beat a girl." But if his wrestler were to lose, the taunting would commence: "How could you lose to a girl?" Last Saturday a Lakewood wrestler did take to the mat against Lauren and lost by a technical fall when the score reached 16-0.
Veitch says that some of Lauren's opponents have been hesitant to use certain moves on her. "One kid from another school kept trying a move we call the upper butt, and he never got comfortable. It's a touchy situation," says Veitch, with unintended irony.
So, is this a reason to keep girls out of high school wrestling programs? "There's nothing sexual about it," says Lauren. "Wrestling is a sport."
Okemos coach Darin Wilcox agrees. "If Wrestler A reaches for a high crotch [a common move] on Wrestler B," he says, "it doesn't make him a homosexual. This is a very physical sport, and the object is to win a match."
Lauren is not on a crusade; if people's attitudes change because of her wrestling, fine. If not, well, she has other things on her mind. She has a 3.9 GPA, runs cross-country and plays soccer, is her class treasurer on the student council and works the sound crew for school plays.
But as long as she wears a singlet, she will continue to be "the girl wrestler." When Lauren agreed to appear on a Detroit TV show called Kelly & Company last March, she had no idea that it would turn out to be "a freak show about tomboys and sissies," as she calls it. Having listened to other guests discuss a little boy who played with dolls and a girl who refused to wear dresses, Lauren answered questions with a slightly pained expression. "Do you kinda like to hang out with guys or hang out with girls?" talk show host Marilyn Turner asked.
"I do things with all my friends," Lauren replied patiently. It soon became apparent that Lauren could not be so easily labeled as one of the other female guests, who was identified on screen by the inscription LOVES MUD, HATES LACE. After Lauren told Turner, "I don't think of myself as a tomboy. I think of myself as an athlete," the exasperated host gave up. "Lauren, do you think this is all much ado about nothing?" asked Turner.