Lake Wylie girl wrestles, wins medals

Some girls have daddy wrapped around their little fingers. Bella Hoffman could put hers in an iron cross.

“She said, ‘Dad, I want to wrestle,’ ” said Richard Hoffman, wrestling coach for Clover Middle School. “I said, ‘No.’ ”

Mom Kelly and Bella, now 10, pinned dad with a tag-team question asking if he wanted Bella to think there’s something she can’t do just because she’s a girl.

“It happened in one night,” Bella said.

Bella, a Crowders Creek Elementary School fifth-grader, has been freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling since age 7. She’s the youngest member of the South Carolina USA Wrestling national women’s team, and she leaves March 8 for an East Coast championship in Virginia.

She’ll again wrestle for her state March 27-29 in Oklahoma and May 15-17 in Texas.

“She is working hard on the mat to get better every day, and off the mat to raise money for her trips this year,” Kelly Hoffman said. “Bella looks forward to bringing home medals while representing Clover on a national level.”

She scored last year with silver medals in North and South Carolina championships and bronze at a southeast regional championship. She has a silver this year from a South Carolina event.

“Sometimes I get strange looks because I’m a girl, and I’m the only girl at some of these tournaments,” Bella said.

But her dad said wrestling doesn’t see differences like gender. And there are wrestlers without limbs, and wrestlers with developmental challenges.

“All they care about is your age and your weight,” Richard said.

Bella went to practices every day with dad. Now she’s training through a club program with Clover High School coaches Michael Fitzgerald and Chauncey McElheney.

“She was always the smallest person in the room and our guys, they don’t hold back,” said Fitzgerald, Clover High head coach. “We didn’t treat Bella like a girl. We treated her like a wrestler. That was important for her.”

When Bella’s dad talked with Fitzgerald about his daughter’s wrestling, Fitzgerald, who also has a daughter, replied: “Great.”

“He looked at me funny like, what do you mean that’s great?” Fitzgerald said.

Although Richard Hoffman says it’s a big challenge letting his daughter travel to tournaments without him, so far the 70-pounder is fending well for herself.

“I’m appreciated by some people,” Bella said.

Bella would like to wrestle into and beyond high school, perhaps the Olympics. But she has softball and cheerleading seasons first.

“For her right now,” her mom said, “it’s all about the experience.”