Pinning Down a Dream
For Clarissa Chun, the path to Olympic Gold runs through Marshall

By JUSTIN WILLETT of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, December 23, 2001


The women are hyped for their first home match of the season.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
Missouri Valley College wrestler Clarissa Chun, right, pushes back Kera Pemberton, her opponent from Neosho County Community College, during a match earlier this month. Chun is the third-ranked women’s wrestler in the United States in her weight class. She spent November traveling to Paris, Bulgaria and Colorado to compete in the World Cup and World Championships, and to train at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs

While only about a third of the Missouri Valley College women’s grapplers are competing this early December night, the rest of the team is in the stands and no less excited than their counterparts on the mat.
Only a handful of the women are wrestling, because the Neosho County Community College team that traveled to Marshall from Kansas is new and could only bring seven wrestlers. The Missouri Valley squad is just happy that a team was willing to make the trip.

Usually it’s the big teams that come to town; the smaller schools don’t want to come a long distance just to get their butts kicked by the top-ranked women’s wrestling team in the nation.

To make matters worse for the Neosho team, Clarissa Chun takes the mat first for Missouri Valley. Ranked third in the nation in the 46 kilogram - or 101 pound - weight class, the 4-foot 9-inch junior doesn’t look too imposing, but her record does.

Chun was a two-time Hawaii Girls State Wrestling Champion and finished third in the 1999 U.S. Girls High School National Championships. After winning or placing in the top three spots in many national and international tournaments while at Missouri Valley, Chun holds down the No. 2 spot on the U.S. national team.

This ranking means that the 20-year-old Chun will likely be one of the top American contenders in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, in the first games to include women’s wrestling.

As the two begin their match, the Neosho wrestler pulls Chun’s long dark hair out of its neat ponytail and into her eyes. Chun’s teammates begin heckling her opponent while encouraging their friend as the two combatants fling each other to the mat.

"Let’s go, Chun," they yell.

"Suck it up, Chun," one of them calls out.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
Chun laughs with her teammates after winning her match against Pemberton. The close-knit team holds two-hour practices six days a week. Chun estimates that she spends nine hours a day, counting class, with her teammates. “We hang out all the time,” she said.

After a few moments of standing head to head battling for position, Chun gains the advantage, makes a quick move and drops her opponent to the mat. In a swirl of blue and red, the unfortunate Neosho wrestler is bent in half, her face pressed to the mat and her feet swinging in the air behind her. You can see the pain on her face; she begins crying as Chun holds her tight.
After the referee blows the whistle, ending her poor opponent’s torture, Chun smiles as her teammates cheer.

It’s not that she enjoys hurting people; she’s just doing what she loves to do.

 

Although new to the Olympics, women’s wrestling isn’t a new sport; it’s just been slow to develop in the United States.

More than 80 nations host women’s wrestling competitions and FILA, the international wrestling federation, has held the Women’s World Freestyle Wrestling Championships since 1987.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
Coach Mike Machholz wipes Chun’s face during a brief break in her match against Kera Pemberton of Neosho. Maccholz, a former wrestler, started the women’s program three years ago. It was the first scholarship program for women in the sport in the country.

While only about six American universities and colleges have varsity teams, women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for young women. As states follow Michigan, Texas and Hawaii and establish high school championships for girls wrestling, club programs and other youth programs flourish.
The Missouri Valley program, which was the first scholarship program in the nation, grew out of the success of the men’s program and out of an effort to advance the sport of wrestling.

Mike Machholz started both programs at the 1,300-student private college. A Marshall native, Machholz was a state wrestling finalist at Marshall High School. He wrestled at William Jewell College in Liberty, but transferred to Missouri Valley after a knee injury. After earning a business degree from the college he began working in the admissions office there.

When his supervisors began looking for a way to increase enrollment, Machholz got an idea. He told the administrators that he could get 30 young men to the school who would never otherwise come to Marshall - if Missouri Valley established a wrestling program.

That venture was so successful that Machholz made the same proposal three years ago, this time offering to attract women to the school. "I told the president that we’d get 20 women who wouldn’t otherwise come here," he said.

But because women’s programs were relatively new and unproven, Machholz knew he’d have to live up to a higher standard.

"We’re going to have to have a pretty high-powered program," Machholz recalled saying at the time, "or it would be looked down upon."

High powered is what he got. Against Neosho, his wrestlers took six of the seven matches.

 

The women on the Missouri Valley wrestling team distinguish themselves by their hard work.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
Coaches Mike Maccholz and Greg Woodring charge the mat shouting directions as Clarissa Chun watches a teammate compete. As one of the few remaining members of the Missouri Valley College’s first team, Chun offers newcomers advice on how to improve in practice and during their matches.

While women on other teams also practice daily, attend classes and tournaments in far-flung places, the Missouri Valley women have the added pressure - and scrutiny - of being the best.
Their coach said that after the team’s organization was announced people on campus wondered whether the women would look like gorillas and beat up everybody. Perceptions have changed.

"There has been a lot of respect gained in the last couple years," Machholz said.

The team has been featured in USA Today, Sports Illustrated, in judo and extreme sports magazines and on ESPN. That helped get the word out about women’s wrestling and helped establish the team as the best.

Now the women are seen with admiration and even jealousy by some of their peers on campus and in Marshall. "They get a lot of props, but they earn them," Machholz said. "We’ve told them that they’re very much under the microscope. Not only are they the first women’s program; they’re supposed to be the best."

Machholz said that while women have several disadvantages to overcome when they begin wrestling, they are equipped to overcome them. Women aren’t as strong as men and usually haven’t been wrestling as long, he said.

"Girls are more like a sponge," Machholz said. "They’re eager to learn and their egos aren’t quite as big as some of the males."

One of the women’s’ seeming disadvantages actually benefits them. Because there are fewer women wrestlers, each grappler has a better shot at competing in the Olympics.

"They’ve got an unbelievable opportunity right now," Machholz said. "We brought them here with the pretense that we’d get them ready for 2004."

?

Born in Hawaii to a Chinese father and Japanese mother, Chun was immersed in sports from an early age.

Around age 7, Chun was an established swimmer. But she soon tired of watching her brother bring home judo trophies - she could only receive ribbons for swimming accomplishments - and asked her mother if she could practice judo, too.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
Chun lies back on her bed while doing some last munite studying for her last final exam of the semester. Chun is on a scholarship through the wrestling program to study mass communications.

Although her mother said no, that didn’t stop the strong-willed youngster.
On Girls Day - a Japanese holiday when families with girls wish their daughters a successful and happy life - Chun skipped swimming practice and went to the dojo where her brother practiced. When her mother later found out that she had skipped swimming for judo, she told her daughter that she had to stick with judo until she earned a black belt.

Chun not only went on to get a black belt; she became a five-time National Judo Champion.

While she still practices the martial art when her busy schedule allows, she said the real role judo played was connecting her to wrestling; her judo sensei wrestled and ended up introducing her to the sport.

"If I wouldn’t have done judo, I wouldn’t have been wrestling," Chun said. "I like the physical part of it."

Chun thrived through high school by practicing both sports. She went on to win two state wrestling championships and to place third in the nation her senior year. But when it became time to choose a college, Chun faced a tough decision: wrestling or judo.

After discussing her options with her sensei and her family and friends, she chose Missouri Valley because of its scholarship program.

"I just wanted to try something different," Chun said. "I always told myself that if I didn’t do well in wrestling…"

She never had to finish that sentence.

 

Most of the women on the Missouri Valley team love the sport for its intensity and physical nature. Wrestling has taught them life lessons, fostering self-respect and confidence, while nurturing the sense of sisterhood they share with their teammates.

The learning and growing occurs during the long hours the women spend together at meets, practicing, studying and just hanging out. The older women on the team say that as the season progresses the team will mature, teaching today’s freshman to be tomorrow’s leaders and teachers.

 

Jenna Isaacson photo
The referee raises Chun’s arm declaring her the winner after a 10-0 decision over Neosho County Community College’s Kera Pemberton. With the 2004 games more than two years away, Chun has plenty of time to gain the five pounds she needs to qualify for the 106-pound Olympic weight class. “So I get to eat brownies,” she jokes.

In her rise to the top, Chun has been fortunate to learn from an older, wiser wrestler. Over the past couple years, Tricia Saunders, who beat out Chun for the top spot on the U.S. national team, has freely shared her knowledge of wrestling and life with Chun.
Saunders, a four-time world gold medalist and 10-time national champion, spent time with Chun at the Olympic training center in Colorado this summer, teaching her how to beat Chinese, Japanese and Russian wrestlers - who provide the stiffest competition for the U.S. wrestlers.

Being the best might preclude some champions from sharing tips with their stiffest competition. Saunders has a reason for being so supportive, even though Chun came closer to beating her than any U.S. opponent.

She has told Chun that she might not compete in the 2004 games. The 35-year-old wrestler has admitted that her body is not responding like it used to, and she is considering retiring before the Olympic games.

While Chun is a little bummed to lose a mentor, she appreciates Saunders’ willingness to teach and wants to help other young women in the same way.

"I think she has realized how much she has done for the sport," Chun said. "But I don’t want her to retire yet; I want to beat her first."

-----------------------------------------------

Sandies, Lady Dons score lopsided wins after layoff

By Steve Brannan 1/9/02
sbrannan@amarillonet.com

 

Click on picture to enlarge


Palo Duro High's Brittany James, top, and Amarillo High's Ana Terrazas both seem exhausted Tuesday night, Jan. 8, 2002, in their 138-pound-class event at Palo Duro High School, Amarillo. James won the event on a fall after the 3 minute, 26 second competition between them.

After a holiday season spent away from the mat, the Amarillo High and Palo Duro wrestling teams may have been rusty in certain areas Tuesday.

But that did not keep the Sandies or Lady Dons from walking off with seemingly lopsided victories.

Taking advantage of four forfeit wins and dominance at the heavier weights, the AHS boys tore through the Dons for a 60-18 victory during a dual match between the two schools at Palo Duro.

The defending state and national champion Lady Dons were just as dominant in the girls' division, dropping only one match in a 48-3 victory.

Judging by the results, all sides had to be pleased to walk away with a victory in their first match since the winter break. And with more work to come, they should only get better.

"Most of our kids haven't practiced in three weeks," Palo Duro coach Steve Nelson said. "The Christmas break kind of hurt us. Some of our kids were huffing and puffing out there."

Numbers certainly hurt the Palo Duro boys, who were forced to forfeit matches at 112, 119, 125 and 189 pounds before ever stepping onto the mat.

The Dons would rally early in the dual, with pins by Justin Cordova at 130 pounds and Juan Diaz at 152 cutting AHS' lead to 24-18 at one point.

But the Sandies would soon retake the advantage.

Scoring with several reversals at 160, Clark Damon took a 9-2 decision against Palo Duro's Adam Saavedra. And after narrowly escaping what could have been a pinning situation, Eric Rathbun subsequently pinned Michael Fields at 171 pounds for a 33-18 lead that put the Sandies comfortably ahead.

"With the bigger weights, that's where we're stronger right now," AHS boys coach Greg Clear said. "To be honest, we're pretty young. We just matched up with them pretty well."

That much showed as Adam Baker, Nathan Fox and Michael Norman continued the assault, scoring three more pins as the Dons were left with few options.

"It got us kind of worried at first," AHS heavyweight Norman said. "When we got into the heavier weights, 160 and up, we did better. We work hard at the higher weights. We've got Fox who's ranked No. 1 in the state, and just practicing against him makes us better."

The Lady Dons were just as strong in the early dual, as Stormy Grear, Brittany Owens, Lauren Lindsey, Roberta Gallegos and Brittany James all scored pins before the Lady Sandies could ever score a point.

Hannah Skinner would score one victory for AHS with a 6-5 win against Annie Thomas with a late takedown at 150 pounds. But Rachel Morgan and Theresa Fennell finished with two more pins at 167 and 187, ending the lady Sandies' hopes of cutting the deficit.

Despite the victories, Nelson said his team still has more work to do before it can begin defense of its state crown.

"Even though we scored, we made some mistakes we shouldn't be making," Nelson said. "We're still two months away from the state championship. We know we have to correct those mistakes if we want to win the state championship again."

-------------------------------------------------

Girls of grapple fight for recognition


Wednesday November 7, 2001
Christine Rivet
RECORD STAFF


Teri O'Connor swears that wrestling has given her more guts and poise
than
she could have ever dredged up elsewhere.
In fact, the sport has transformed this once rudderless young girl into
a
crusader of sorts, one who has put her sport into a headlock, refusing
to
let go until girls' wrestling is officially recognized by the Waterloo
County Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

Although girls' wrestling is sanctioned by the regional and provincial
high
school associations, WCSSAA hasn't budged. What few girls do wrestle in
local high schools do so only through an exhibition schedule, without
winning a team trophy, at least until they move on to the regional and
provincial championships.

"Every other (school) district recognizes female wrestling, even OFSAA
(the
Ontario Schools Athletic Association). So why is Waterloo County still
in
the Dark Ages?" O'Connor asked after she called The Record to outline
her
mission, which includes urging her teachers and fellow students to
support
the cause.

"We want to be able to win a team trophy," says O'Connor, a Grade 12
student
at Forest Heights Collegiate, who hopes to wrestle at the university
level
before she becomes a teacher and possibly, a wrestling coach herself.

Seems the sport has created a monster.

And one of O'Connor's coaches says he understands why.

"I think the girls are after affirmation," says Forest Heights
wrestling
coach Harry Niezen, who expects a city-high 20 girls to join the
school's
wrestling team this season, in part, due to O'Connor's efforts.

"And why not? The girls put the same work into the sport that the boys
do.
They practise just as hard, just as often. They just want to be treated
as
equals."

The holdup is at the coaching level since the support of the local
coaches
is necessary before WCSSAA will even consider changing the sport's
status. A
coaches' vote on the issue was soundly defeated about a month ago.

Although girls like O'Connor say they can't understand why the coaches
won't
step into the 21st century, another Forest Heights coach says he thinks
he
knows why they are resisting.

"It's a political thing to force male coaches to coach girls," says
coach
Richard Bimm, who would love nothing more than to see WCSSAA adopt
girls'
wrestling. "With all the things you hear about going on (allegations of
teachers sexually harassing students), it can be kind of scary for a
male
coach. Some coaches just don't want to risk it."

Of course, wrestling is a physical sport which demands its participants
grab
hold of each other, often in compromising positions.

For that reason, the coaches at Forest Heights say they forbid girls
from
sparring with the boys. And the male coaches make a point of
demonstrating
the sport's various moves and holds on their male wrestlers only.

Forest Heights made another significant leap forward this season
because,
for the first time, the school's wrestling teams will welcome a female
coach, Chandra Hunter, when practices start this week.

Landing Hunter took a little convincing, because she has no previous
experience in the sport. But it was worth the effort, says Niezen, who
figures the sport needs a shot in the arm.

"If WCSSAA adopted girls' wrestling, more girls would want to wrestle
at
their high schools and it's just a gut feeling, but I think more boys
would
want to wrestle too because the sport would have a higher profile,"
says
Niezen.

So while WCSSAA and its coaches dither over what will certainly be the
inevitable decision of officially adopting female wrestling, the Forest
Heights coaches say they couldn't be prouder of the role O'Connor will
have
had in changing history.

"In Grade 9, Teri was an angry young kid," says Bimm. ''Then this sport
got
a hold of her. Now, look at her. She's got so much self confidence. I'm
told
she has much better grades now.

''I call her my marketing manager,'' he says.

Shouldn't WCSSAA be promoting just such extra-curricular activities,
sports
in which young girls are afforded the chance to change their lives for
the
better?

Isn't that what receiving an education is all about?

---------------------------------

Merry, uh, Boxing Day


Wednesday December 26, 2001
Christine Rivet
RECORD STAFF


Take back that toaster. Return that bottle of peach schnapps. Exchange those toe socks.
In the grand tradition Boxing Day, the day we stare in bewilderment at what Santa has left us under our trees, we introduce the inaugural What I Shoulda Asked For Christmas, But Didn't column.

No doubt, the following girls and women, featured in this space throughout the past several months, didn't request these gifts, although we think they probably should have.

Oh well, ladies. There's always next Christmas.

To Olympic sharpshooter Sharon Bowes of Waterloo: A lottery win approximating the $40,000 of her own money she sunk into her training and equipment in preparation for the last summer Olympics.

To tennis player Anna Kournikova: A grand slam tournament win in 2002, so that the Russian sexpot can finally be known for something other than her good looks.

To former Wilfrid Laurier University hockey standout Lisa Backman, who set the career record for most goals (134) in Canadian university hockey: A thicker skin and a better-developed sense of humour.

To Kitchener product and aspiring World Cup circuit skier Kelly VanderBeek: No waits in the ski lift line on her way to stardom.

To Teri O'Connor, the tirelessly crusading Grade 12 student at Forest Heights Collegiate, who is intent on achieving full varsity status for girls high school wrestling in local schools: a Waterloo County Secondary Schools Athletic Association-sponsored girls' team championship trophy named in her honour.

To former Kitchener resident Margot Page, the head coach of Niagara University's hockey team, CBC women's hockey analyst and all-around classy gal: A national championship trophy and a Genie on her mantel in 2002.

To Wendy La, the five-foot-three, 105-pound receiver for the Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate football team: Her own personal on-field body guard, a nasty behemoth that stands six-foot-five and tips the scales at 300 pounds.

To former University of Guelph student and national hockey team star Cassie Campbell: A gold-medal victory from Salt Lake City for her, her teammates and every female hockey fan in this country.

To Cameron Heights Collegiate student Dana Jacklin, whose bum knees forced her to retire from competitive soccer and basketball at the tender age of 18: A set of new and improved bionic joints.

To thoughtful and well-spoken Waterloo native Shannon Cartier and the rest of our area's top female fastball players, who are forced to suit up with distant clubs: A Kitchener-Waterloo-based senior team, just like the old days.

To the former Olympian and University of Waterloo field hockey coach, the much-missed Sharon Creelman: Success in her new profession, teaching and coaching at the Oakville private school, Appleby College, rivaling her storied field hockey career.

To University of Waterloo student Dana Ellis, who was thrown on to the scrap heap of injured gymnasts several years ago, only to reinvent herself as a national calibre pole vaulter: A free pass to the 2004 Olympics in Greece.

To female athletes everywhere: Continued success in achieving equal access to facilities, coaching and funding in 2002.

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