They say when one door closes another one opens but Shelby High School Coyote wrestler Berlin Larson wasn’t about to just let the door slam on her dream of continuing to wrestle for the SHS wrestling team. During a school board meeting in August, the Shelby School Board tabled having a girls’ wrestling program when the motion for it wasn’t seconded.
Jessi LaTray, Lar-son’s mom, contacted Superintendent Elliott Crump and asked what needed to be done for this to be reconsidered and was advised that if it was brought back to him again from the community it would go back before the Board. And that is exactly what happened. Larson and her mom reached out for support from the community and the response was overwhelming. Individuals from Larson’s current wrestling teammates to former Coyote wrestlers stepped up to support Larson’s fight to wrestle.
“I would like to thank everyone who took the time to write a letter in my fight to wrestle this year,” said Larson. “I don’t know everyone that wrote in, but I had a Shelby High School heavy-weight state champion from 1988 that lives in Seattle and a wrestling coach from Libby that took the time for someone they don’t even know. How amazing is that!”
It was amazing enough for the Shelby School Board to make a different decision this time, one that allows Larson to continue her wrestling career.
“I am happy that the board created a girls’ wrestling program here in Shelby,” said Superintendent Crump. “It is a growing sport nationally, and I think it is a great addition to the opportunities that we already offer to our students.”
Her biggest supporters and inspiration were her family, but there are a couple others out there that fueled her fire as well.
“Going to the state tournament last year and seeing the girls from all divisions wrestle at that high level of competition was probably the most inspired I have been to continue,” said Larson. “Two girls in particular at the state tournament though, Rebecca Stroh (Chinook) and Morgan Ayers (Highwood), both are very aggressive and probably the kindest girls I have ever met. Morgan is currently going to college for wrestling, I aspire to be as aggressive as she was in high school.”
Larson first started wrestling at age 13. At that point she was wrestling and also playing on the eighth grade girls’ basketball team. Larson knew once she was in high school a choice would have to be made, basketball or wrestling. After a lot of soul searching and talking with her family Larson decided wrestling was where her heart was. She competed her freshman year and was already looking forward to her sophomore season when she heard the news. Wrestling might not be possible for her.
“I had so many emotions flowing through my mind I couldn’t give you my exact reaction,” said Larson. “I cried a lot, screamed a lot, threw a couple shoes at the walls. It was definitely one of the worst moments in my life and I couldn’t imagine life that didn’t include wrestling.”
Wrestling had been a part of Larson’s life for as long as she could remember. Every weekend throughout the winter months Larson would be up early with her family to go watch her brothers, Tyler and Ryland, wrestle wherever the meet happened to be. Wrestling meets became a place of comfort for her, a safe and happy place, a place she belonged and a place stereotypes could be proven wrong.
“Wrestling is important to me because it gives me a chance to show anyone and everyone that women are just as capable of doing anything men can do,” said Larson. “Not only can you have a safe place with your team, but wrestling is giving you a chance to express yourself in every move you make.”
Wrestling has influenced Larson to express herself in all aspects of her life, not just on the mat. It has taught her better communication skills and the relief in knowing it’s okay to ask for help and to never be ashamed of needing it. She has also discovered that fear is not her enemy, but something you overcome when you discover yourself.
“Fear is the mental battle you win and then work alongside with,” said Larson. “That is one of my favorite parts of wrestling. The moment when you’re afraid of all the possible things that could go wrong in the match and you step on the mat. Then all of the sudden all your fear floats away and you go from feeling your walking on hot steamy lava to floating on a cloud.”
Larson’s wrestling career has come with a few challenges, one of them being the only girl on the team. This wasn’t as hard to overcome as some might think, as Larson is also the only girl at home, with brothers both older and younger than her.
“Being the only girl on the team is about the same as being at home,” smiled Larson. “I’m surrounded by smelly boys! I’ve just learned to pack perfume to spray and a community deodorant for them.”
Her teammates appreciate her efforts, both on and off the mat and she had their full support in her fight to continue wrestling. She also had the backing of her coaches.
“Having Berlin open a new door for herself and future female student-athletes, is a win for everyone,” said SHS wrestling coach Thad White. “She will be considered a pioneer of the sport. Giving our students as many opportunities as possible is one of our highest priorities. Wrestling is a demanding sport and teaches the participants self-discipline and self-awareness along with mental toughness. Berlin has accepted this challenge and is a great role model for our current and future students. The team, coaches and surrounding communities are very supportive of Berlin and are excited to see her success.”
Larson is grateful for the support and thanks everyone involved from her parents to her brothers to coaches and teammates.
“I thank my parents for never letting me quit, Tyler for always pushing me to be better, Ryland for working with me all of the time, my coaches for always having my back and my teammates for helping me become a better wrestler,” said Larson. “I also need to thank Momma Tonia for supplying Pedialite, hair ties and hugs, as well as everyone who comes to watch and cheers me on from the stands. I thank my grandparents for coming to watch, even though they don’t like sitting for so long. I also would like to thank everyone who wrote a letter in my fight to wrestle this year.”
A pioneer in Shelby wrestling, Larson strives to represent her community with pride and dedication while also hoping to encourage other girls to give wrestling a try.
“I would highly suggest trying it, definitely,” concluded Larson. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My words of wisdom would be it’s not about the amount of wins or losses, the matches before mean nothing. Focus on the next match, that’s it!”
Larson is taking her own advice and focusing on what lies ahead this wrestling season. Upon hearing the board’s decision to allow her to wrestle she broke down and cried.
“I sat in my chair in the auditorium and cried. I was so happy a flood of tears came from my eyes as I heard them pass one of the most important things in my life,” said Larson.
Tears of joy and relief also leaked from LaTray’s eyes upon hearing her daughter would be able to continue doing something she loves to do, wrestle for the Shelby Coyotes.
“I would like to thank Mr. Crump for bringing this back before the board and the board for agreeing to hear our plea, reconsider and pass it,” concluded LaTray.
With the support of her family, team and community Larson will be hitting the mats again this season with no looking back, it’s on to the next match. Go Coyotes!