In a League of Her Own
If you knew nothing about 13-year-old (almost 14) Jaine Stephens, there is a good chance you may not be able to guess her sport of choice after you first see her. At just over 100 pounds, this eighth grader at Whitley County Middle School may not be the most intimidating figure you could imagine, but as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.
That old saying holds especially true for Stephens, as she is currently pinning several of her male counterparts to the mat as the only female member of the Colonels’ wrestling team. That’s right, not only can Jaine hold her own as a wrestler at her young age, but she is already making a name for herself by out-grappling many of the boys she’s facing on a weekly basis, often getting the better of opponents older than she is.
You see, she may be young, but it would be difficult to find many wrestlers in this area with more experience than she has.
Jaine’s father is Donnie Stephens, head coach of the women’s wrestling program at the University of the Cumberlands. As you might imagine, Coach Stephens has had his daughter involved in wrestling for as long as she’s been able to put on a singlet, and when she became old enough to get serious about competing a few years ago, she was ready to hit the mat and make her mark in the sport that she had grown to love.
Jaine and her family are originally from California, where her father coached wrestling at a high school in a town about 30 minutes outside of Los Angeles. It was here that Stephens got her introduction to the sport, and learned many valuable lessons while competing as a member of a club team for young children.
The Stephens family eventually moved from California to Colorado, where they stayed for about six months before coming to Williamsburg just before the beginning of the last school year. Jaine says that things are much different here compared to where she once lived, but she also feels like she is gaining a lot of valuable experience while wrestling at Whitley County. “Girls wrestling was a lot bigger in California,” she explained. “We had a lot more wrestling in general. We actually had an entire girls team at my dad’s old high school.”
“When I came here it was a little weird at first being the only girl on the team. I think everybody was kind of nervous about it, but now I see all of my teammates like brothers.”
As for whether she ever gets to wrestle against other girls now, Jaine said that she still gets to do plenty of that while competing in various summer tournaments, but as for the regular season, it’s mostly her versus boys. She feels that this will ultimately benefit her in the long run, however, saying that it should help her to not be intimidated by larger opponents in the future.
Colonels wrestling Head Coach Justin Bozeman said that he is thrilled to have Jaine on the team, and of all the female wrestlers he has had experience with in the past, he puts her at the top of his list in terms of athletic ability.
“She comes from a wrestling background, and is very knowledgeable in the sport,” said Bozeman of Stephens. “She knows it so well that she’s kind of like a young coach during our practices. She is fundamentally sound in everything that she does, and when you live the sport like she does it’s not difficult to coach her.”
“I see nothing but positive things in Jaine’s future,” Bozeman continued. “She will continue to grow yearly, and our goal is to see her compete at the state level.”
Of course, Jaine has aspirations of wrestling at the collegiate level one day, and she says that she hopes to see more area high schools adopt wrestling as a sport before she gets to that point. “Wrestling has such a big effect on your life,” she said when asked about how competing in the sport has impacted her personally. “It takes a lot of determination and heart, and it’s not for everybody, but I think the ones who are able to make it through an entire season always want to come back.”
“Wrestling shows that you have to work hard in order to get what you want in life, and I really don’t know what I would do without it. It can seem scary when you’re first starting out, but in the end I think we have just as much fun together as any other team. The sport of wrestling is kind of like one big family.”
The Whitley County wrestling team will be back in action this Saturday, January 10 at Bryan Station High School in Lexington. The Colonels will host a tournament for Senior Night on Thursday, January 29.
Photos courtesy of Shirley Stephens