Kayla Barnes has a contagious smile, a face full of freckles, long red hair and weighs in at around a whopping 100 pounds.
She is a senior at Rock Hill High; plays volleyball and softball. So what do her looks and weight have to do with those three. Barnes has signed a scholarship with King College in Bristol, Tenn. ... to wrestle.
“I wrestled my sophomore season on the JV team and I’m involved in freestyle wrestling,’’ Barnes said. “I was hoping to get a scholarship for volleyball, but I subscribed to an Internet recruiting service and that’s how King found me.
“I’ll wrestle in college at 101 pounds and the coaches said how soon I crack the lineup depends on how hard I work. I’m excited for this opportunity. I’ve been around wrestling all my life.’’
According to Hillcrest High AD and wrestling coach Tommy Bell, Barnes is the fourth girl from South Carolina to sign a wrestling coach. Her signing is an historic one for York County; the first girl from the area to sign in the sport.
“I had two that signed and there was a girl from Ridgeview that signed too,’’ said Bell, whose team won the Class AAAA team championship this season. “We are seeing more girls getting interested in wrestling and the only way for them to compete in high school is (to) make the boys team.’’
Barnes, daughter of David and Regina Barnes, said making history is “nice’’ and that she’s sure the impact it will have on other area girls who want to wrestle will eventually sink in.
She’s been going to Bearcats matches since she was two years old. As a freshman, she volunteered for one of the most important behind-the-scenes jobs on the team. She asked Bearcats coach Cane Beard if she could be a manager and keep the scorebook for varsity matches.
“When Kayla was 2, I slipped out for a wrestling match and her mom said she cried the whole time I was gone,’’ her dad said. “When I got home, she told me ‘never again,’ and that from now on Kayla was going with me.’’ Barnes knows the sport. Fans sitting behind her at matches the first year she kept the book were impressed how well Barnes knew the sport.
“While I was keeping score, I’d yell out moves and holds to our wrestlers on the mat,’’ she said. “People would hear me and began asking my dad why I didn’t go out for the team. First I had to ask my mom, and when she said I could, I wrestled on the JV team my sophomore year.’’
Barnes’ parents had no idea how long their daughter would continue the grueling workouts. He dad said he gave her two or three weeks, and if “she was still out there’’ we knew she would stick it out.
“I remember picking her up one day and her face was blood red,’’ he said. “I asked her if she was OK and she said yes, that it was just so hot in the wrestling room.’’
Barnes wrestled the entire season and she’s also won a championship. She took first place in a freestyle tournament at St. Stephens High School in Hickory, N.C.
But after on season, it was back to keeping the book so she could concentrate on volleyball and softball. After all, how many girls get wrestling scholarships. The answer is somewhere around a couple of handfuls.]
According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, there were 804 high school girls wrestlers in 1994. The number has grown to 7,351. Five states, Washington, Hawaii, California, Texas, and Massachusetts, hold high school sanctioned state championships. Fourteen teams compete in the Women’s College Wrestling Association. King was national runner-up in 2011.
Barnes moved to freestyle wrestling and said it’s a good fit because its the style college teams use. She remembers her first high school practice as being tough on her nerves.
“I had watched a lot of matches, but my first time on the mat I learned that I would not win if I let my opponent control my hands,’’ she said. “From that day on, I always was aware of my where hands were. The key in wrestling is to use your hands to get an advantage.’’ She is proud of her accomplishments and is looking forward to starting college life. Barnes has a 3.6 GPA and has signed up for nursing school.
“She has always had our support and the same from her coaches and teammates,’’ Regina Barnes said. “The (King) coaches said how soon she starts depends on how hard she works. And colleges have a hard time finding and keeping girl wrestlers at the lower weights.’’
Barnes has never squared off against a male wrestler who took it easy on her or refused to compete. And her male teammates had her back. If someone had crossed here, her dad said, her whole team would have been in his face.
She’s on her own now, will not have any male teammates to ride herd. But that’s fine. She’s never walked away from a challenge and is not about to now. It’s a dream come true.