Female wrestler earns acceptance, respect at Dallas Center-Grimes
By DAN McCOOL
Register Staff Writer
Dallas Center, Ia. - Jessica "Jessy" Daniels has an interesting excuse for missing work at a Des Moines aquatic pet shop on fall and winter Saturdays.
Daniels, a 119-pound senior, can be found wrestling in tournaments with her Dallas Center-Grimes High School teammates. This Saturday, she'll miss work to compete in the Gary Kurdelmeier Duals in Cresco.
Daniels, 18, enters tonight's double-dual at Jefferson against JSPC of Jefferson and Ballard of Huxley with a 1-6 record. The victory, 8-4 over Robert Vestal of Saydel, came one week ago tonight.
After dabbling in tae kwon do and jiu jitsu, Daniels decided in junior high she wanted to try wrestling. She has been in the practice room every day ever since, becoming the first female varsity wrestler at Dallas Center-Grimes and winning over doubters with her work ethic.
"I thought grappling seemed like such an awesome sport, so I decided to go out," Daniels said. "It's hard but it's worth it. I only win once in a while, but that makes it more special for me when I do win."
Dallas Center-Grimes teammate Devin Beni, a senior 145-pounder, said he once thought Daniels would be gone soon after she started.
"After the first couple of matches, we all knew that she'd last," Beni said. "She's definitely got more heart than some other people on this team."
Daniels surprised her mother, Pam Brown, when she spoke of her extra-curricular plans.
"You could have pushed me over with a feather," Brown said. "She said it was something she really wanted to do. I thought, "Man, if she's got that much energy she wants to apply to something." . . . I didn't want it going in some other direction."
Girls' wrestling is growing, nationally and in Iowa. At least one state, Texas, officially sanctions girls' wrestling and a state tournament. There were unofficial girls' state wrestling tournaments at Gilbert High School in each of the last two springs.
"At the time, I didn't know anything about any of that," Daniels said, referring to her decision to start wrestling.
Daniels said she doesn't want people to avoid wrestling her because of her gender.
"In some people's minds, it would be the same as wrestling someone with a handicap," Daniels said. "I wouldn't be able to tell somebody with one leg that I wouldn't wrestle because of that. I don't see being a girl as being a handicap."
Dallas Center-Grimes coach Andy Davidson said the team has changed its view of Daniels being on the squad.
"For the first couple of years, she was somebody who practiced with us and got on the bus," Davidson said. "Nobody would treat her with disrespect, but she was just someone who was here. The guys expect maximum effort out of her.
"She's part of the team now, there's no question about it. That's what she wants, to be accepted."
Daniels earned a big hug for her victory from Davidson last week.
"I was just as excited for her winning that match as I was when I watched Eric Voelker win a national championship," Davidson said.
Voelker, a former Dallas Center-Grimes wrestler who never won a state championship, won NCAA titles at 190 pounds for Iowa State in 1987 and "89.
"For her to come from where she was to that moment was the same journey Eric took, just at a different level," Davidson said.
Lorna Torrez, a Dallas Center-Grimes senior, admires her friend. Torrez was a kicker for the Mustangs' football team and was selected as the school's homecoming queen last fall.
"I just think it's awesome. That just shows a lot of strength in her personality," Torrez said. "She's doing what she loves to do. She went out every single year for it and she was going to do it because she loves the sport. She doesn't do it because she wants attention."
Daniels said attention is the last thing she desires.
"There are guys here that work a lot harder than I
do, that have to step it up all the time and might have a better
match than I did," Daniels said. "But I get more credit because I'm a
girl. I don't think that's fair."