Girl wrestler takes different path to college
There are no official records kept for such things, but it appears Gaither senior Daisy Santos has done what no other girl from Hillsborough County has done.
On Wednesday evening, surrounded by several of her male teammates, she signed a wrestling scholarship to King University.
That's right, King in Bristol, Tenn., has a women's wrestling team, just like dozens of other colleges around the country, and Santos, weighing in at 106 pounds, is one of King's newest athletes.
“I looked at a couple of other programs, but I liked King,” said Santos, who not only has a 4.8 GPA, but also was in the homecoming court.
To say the least, Santos is confident.
“Wrestling gave me self esteem,” said Santos, who has wrestled — mostly against boys — almost every day in practice or in matches the past five years, four as a starter on Gaither's boys wrestling team.
In 2013, against boys, she had a 37-8 record. Against girls, her record was much better — and yes, there are plenty of sanctioned girls wrestling tournaments. The girls wrestling junior nationals, for instance, are being held this weekend in Lakeland.
Daisy's father, Gaither wrestling coach Michel Santos, gets fired up when he hears the skeptics, who seem to be dwindling but are still out there, some more obnoxious than others.
“I spend so much time trying educate people, but there are still so many who look immaturely at girls wrestling,” said Michael, a fit and intense man who looks much like he did in 1995 when he went 33-0 for Leto and won the state title at 103 pounds. “The (skeptics) think, 'Oh, that boy is going to grab that girl inappropriately.' But the truth is, that has absolutely nothing to do with it.
“I mean, c'mon, they are wrestling in the middle of a gym with hundreds of people watching. They are competing in a sport. They are trying to win.”
Daisy's Gaither teammate, junior Nick Peshek, has wrestled against Santos in practice the past two years, and he says he never thinks about the fact that Daisy is a girl.
“At first, I might have thought about it a little, but now, not at all — what she is, is a great teammate,” said Peshek, who went 42-9 last year and qualified for the state tournament. “She has made me better, because she is a great wrestler. Technically, she is very good.”
When she signed her scholarship, Peshek cheered along with about a dozen other boys, and then, along with Daisy's 13-year-old sister, Brenda, they went to the mat and wrestled for the next few hours.
“I think having girls wrestle is good for all of wrestling,” Peshek said. “If it increases interest in wrestling, then I'm all for it. Plus, it's just a great sport, whether you are a girl or a boy.”
Michel Santos takes it a step further.
“I think girls are going to save wrestling,” said Santos, referring to the fact that the Olympics pulled men's and women's wrestling from its list of sports in February. Before the February announcement, women had wrestled in three Olympic games (2004, 2008 and 2012).
“The more girls wrestle, the more people will see that it's a beautiful sport,” Santos said. “I know it's going to happen. You just wait and see.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls participating in high school wrestling around the country is about 8,000, and the number of schools with girls wrestling teams is approaching 2,000 (Florida has several all-girls wrestling teams, but Hillsborough County has none).
Who knows, maybe Daisy Santos is the first of many girls from Hillsborough County who will sign a college wrestling scholarship.
“I hope so,” Daisy Santos said. “Because it's a good thing.”