How U.S. Cadet World Team member Grace Stem is using her platform to spark change in girls’ wrestling

How U.S. Cadet World Team member Grace Stem is using her platform to spark change in girls’ wrestling

Grace Stem, a senior wrestler for Bald Eagle Area High School, made the U.S. Cadet World Team for women’s freestyle less than a month ago and has since been vigorously training for United World Wrestling championships, slated for July 19-25 in Budapest, Hungary.

Stem has been putting in five-day weeks of wrestling and four-day weeks of just lifting at the M2 Training Center in Pleasant Gap, the wrestling-specific gym created by USA Olympian and former Penn State standout David Taylor.

For Stem, this chance to appear on the world stage is more than just a chance to better her personal career, it is an opportunity to spark a change in girls’ wrestling, a change that she hopes will end in the official sanctioning of the sport by the PIAA.

I definitely hope that me being able to do this would have an influence on other schools, and in my school, and hopefully help them recognize what girls can do and recognize girls’ wrestling,” Stem said. “I think that it would be great for girls’ wrestling, in general, across the country.”

Stem’s Bald Eagle Area became the 12th school district in Pennsylvania to add a girls’ wrestling program on Thursday evening when the school board of directors unanimously voted to approve the sport. Head wrestling coach Ron Guenot told the Centre Daily Times that it was Stem who made the change happen.

She put in the work, and I’m there to help her out and support her,” he said.

Stem is active in the Sanction PA girls’ wrestling movement, an organization founded last year with the purpose of achieving official standing as a sport in the eyes of the PIAA. The organization has been informed by the state’s interscholastic athletic association that to gain official status, they must have 100 schools with an all-girls’ team.

While the number now stands at 12, Chris Atkinson, the women’s director for Pennsylvania USA Wrestling, said it should increase exponentially soon.

“I feel like we’re at a point right now where probably 15 to 20 schools around the commonwealth are all ready to set up a girls’ program,” Atkinson said. “But they’re still stalled because of COVID or whatever reason.”

Stem will have the chance in her senior season to lead her all-girls team, but previously was the lone girl on a team of all boys, forced to practice, train and compete against high school boys because of the lack of girls’ programs in the area.

While, according to both Stem and Guenot, wrestling against the boys doesn’t bother Stem all that much. However, director of the Sanction PA girls’ wrestling movement Brooke Zumas said that the requirement to mix with the boys is what deters a lot of potential female wrestlers away from the sport that they love.

“All of the girls that are wrestling right now are pioneering and trailblazing, whether they intend to or not. They are participating in a sport where they’re leaders, and young girls and girls who don’t wrestle yet are looking at them,” Zumas said. “They are an example of what they can do and that they belong.”

Stem is gaining support locally for what she is doing, too. Stem’s family created a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of helping her parents raise enough money to travel to Hungary to watch her compete in person on the international stage. She reached her goal of raising $3,500 in less than a week and a half.

“I was kind of surprised how quickly we got so much money,” Stem said. “I think it definitely demonstrates how much support that girls’ wrestling is starting to have.”

Stem’s career in girls’ wrestling is no longer a hidden idea, her success and activism for the sport that she cares about has kept girls’ wrestling in the spotlight. Stem was a part of a group of nine other girls wrestling state champs who went to Harrisburg on June 9 to highlight the growth of girls’ wrestling in Pennsylvania and bring attention to the Sanction PA movement.

A lot of these girls like Grace are literally grabbing the bull by the horns,” Atkinson said. “You have got to start taking these girls seriously … and I hope schools like Bald Eagle Area can capitalize on what their girls are doing and hopefully they can progress.

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