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Women's Wrestling

Q & A with Ferrum College Women’s Head Coach Breonnah Neal

Neal, Breonnah

photo courtesy of Jamestown athletics

This is a guest column from Shannyn Gillespie

Breonnah Neal is the third coach at Ferrum College.  FC, an NCAA DIII school, located in Ferrum, Virginia, started their women’s wrestling program in 2015-16 and competes in the Women’s College Wrestling Association’s (WCWA) national tournament. Ferrum College, and another 60 or so colleges, are paving the way for high school girl wrestlers to continue as student-athletes after high school.

Coach Breonnah is another female wrestling coach who is determined to pass on her knowledge and give more high school girl wrestlers more opportunities at the next level.

Her story is unique and below is her interview…

What age did you start wrestling in competitions and what is your best wrestling accomplishment?

I started wrestling when I was 15. The high school coach knew my younger brother, cousins, and when I got to high school, he asked if I was interested in wrestling too. He thought I would be a good size at 103 lbs.

My best wrestling accomplishment was becoming a WCWA National Champ for King University in 2017.  I was also an undefeated collegiate national champion at 109 lbs that year for King University. [The WCWA organizes and sanctions a women’s college wrestling national championships and has done so since 2008.]

How has wrestling helped you in your life?

Wrestling has helped me in so many ways. It has helped me learn the importance of hard work & dedication. Nothing [worthwhile] in life is easy and that is the same for wrestling. If I wanted something, I had to work for it to make it a reality. Wrestling can teach so many great life lessons and it also showed me the great people involved in the sport. My coaches believed in me so much and helped me any way they could to achieve my goals. 

From that experience in high school, I learned that I wanted to make a difference in kids lives as my coaches did in my life. 

How many years have you been coaching at the college level and what has that experience been like?

This is my first year as a college coach. I have coached several years at a high school and a wrestling club that travels often for competitions.

How do you balance your relationships & coaching?

I have a lot of support from my boyfriend and family to help me. I’m not perfect, but I try to always make time to spend one-on-one time with my daughter and then the time where I can focus on work as well. 

What will it take for high school girls wrestling to triple or quadruple in participation numbers? (Current estimates are 17,000 high school girl wrestlers.)

For girls wrestling to grow, I think it will need more publicity. 

When I started wrestling in high school, I didn’t know that there were colleges that offer women’s wrestling. I really didn’t know about all the opportunities there were on the Team USA level to travel either. 

“Wrestle Like a Girl” & organizations like that are doing a great job at promoting female wrestling now. I just feel like if there was more media coverage of, say the WCWA Nationals, then there wouldn’t be such a stigma of wrestling being a man’s sport. 

Wrestling should not be based on gender for better opportunities. 

The sport doesn’t have a gender, and, hopefully, one day, it will be looked at as women can compete on a high level. They [coaches] can coach boys & men, just as well as girls & women.

Why is women’s collegiate wrestling important in the USA? (Current estimates are 60 collegiate varsity teams.)

Women’s [college] wrestling is important for the USA because it gives student-athletes a chance to develop their skills before aspiring for Team USA National & World teams. Collegiate wrestling helps give women great competition to grow along with still being able to wrestle at USA national events. 

There are seven girls that I know that wrestled in the WCWA in college who are currently on the World Team. The number goes up when you look at the number of girls on the Senior National Team [USA] that wrestled in college. Collegiate wrestling gives women time to still grow as individuals & competitors. 

What impact (if any) will women’s collegiate wrestling have on Japan’s world dominance in women’s wrestling? (Japan has won 22 of 29 team World titles.)

While I do feel college wrestling for women is important, I think the youth part needs to grow more as well. If more girls start wrestling in elementary school instead of high school, it will make the competition deeper and add more depth to Team USA. 

We do have great athletes, but if we have great competition pushing the girls from elementary school or middle school on, it will cause a ripple effect of girls constantly working to get better and improve. 

The women in Japan that are so successful have been wrestling great competition since they were young. If the youth wrestling improves & grows, then so will the college & national levels.

What was your experience like as a high school wrestler?

When I first came out for the wrestling team in high school, the boys were kind of standoffish. They were used to girls who came in for a week or two and then couldn’t make it through the workouts. Once they saw I would do every workout they did, and the success I had at our first dual, they knew that I wasn’t just there just to hang out. 

All the guys on my team were like brothers to me. They would be there to help me and fight for me. I never really cared about what people said about me wrestling with the boys, but they did [say things]. They [teammates] would stand up for me if they heard anyone talk bad about me. It was a really great experience and I still consider them like family now. 

What current challenges do you see now for female wrestling?

Although wrestling has grown so much for women, there are still some of the same struggles. There are people that do not believe in girls and women being on the wrestling mat. They think wrestling is a man’s sport. Another challenge is equal treatment. 

This can mean different types of equal. 

I know some high school coaches aren’t sure how to coach a female. They let them come to practice, but don’t make the girls do everything the rest of the team does. This causes two problems. One, the boys then will still not have respect for the girls and think they cannot contribute to the team. Two, this does not help the girl to improve and push her to become the athlete she could become. 

The other level of equivalence is in colleges. 

Girls want to be able to chase their academic goals as well. Some girls wish there were more of a variety of degrees to choose from once they get to college. Hopefully, this will change as more NCAA DI schools begin to add women’s wrestling.

How can people contact you to learn more about your program? 

People can reach me by email at bneal@ferrum.edu to learn more about our program. 

They can also look at our website index at: 

www.ferrumpanthers.com/sports/wwrest/coaches/index

Bonus: What are your goals for the future?

My first goal is to get Ferrum to be a top 10 college in the WCWA. I also want to get these young women more involved in the USA [Wrestling] circuit. I want to help these young ladies grow as wrestlers and also as people. 

Bonus #2: What are three things people don’t know about you?

Wrestling isn’t the first sport I’ve been apart of that was considered an all-male sport. I also played football when I was younger. 

Even though I’m older, I’m still a fan of watching “Dragon Ball Z” & “Naruto.”

I’m one of nine kids.

Bonus #3: What makes wrestling different than other sports?

Wrestling is different because it is an individual sport, but it is a team sport as well. You make the closest bonds that will last a lifetime with your teammates.  When you have to go through some of the toughest mental and physical workouts together, it brings you closer. When it comes down to competition though, it is just you out there. There is no one else out there to blame if you don’t achieve your goal. You have to know you did everything you could to win or you didn’t do enough…

Thanks Coach Breonnah!

Coach Breonnah stated she didn’t know about women’s collegiate wrestling until she was in high school or around 2011.  Many are unaware women’s wrestling collegiate teams have existed since at least the 1990s. In fact, the WCWA has been sponsoring women’s wrestling national championships since 2008.

One of the reasons these interviews are being conducted is to shine a light on the many women’s college opportunities high school girl wrestlers now have.  Another goal is to arm students, parents, coaches, & administrators with useful information regarding “how to” & “where to” wrestle after high school for females. Arguably, the most important reason for these interviews is to hear exactly what some women’s wrestling coaches believe regarding growing & developing female wrestlers. 

Coach Breonnah believes if there is more female wrestling publicity and girls start wrestling earlier, both participation numbers plus wrestling skills will grow…

The author also believes when the public understands what women’s wrestling is, via mass media & social media, they will also comprehend women can receive & achieve the same benefits that men collegiate wrestlers have enjoyed for over a century!

For more from Shannyn, check out his Facebook page at: facebook.com/uswomenswrestling.

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