0531forresterAUDListen to Buford High wrestler Tia Forrester talk about her honor and the struggles of being a female wrestler.
BUFORD — Sometimes the sport a child grows up playing is determined by his or her upbringing.
In most cases, it makes parents proud that their children would want to follow in their footsteps. But when Scott Forrester’s oldest child asked to wrestle, a sport that Forrester had competed in, the Buford High assistant wrestling coach had his reservations.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want his children to wrestle (his son, Scottie was already wrestling), it’s just that this child asking was his 9-year-old daughter Tia, and he wasn’t so sure about a girl participating in a male-dominated sport.
"I just wanted to do it because my brother did it and I thought it was cool," said Tia Forrester, a four-year wrestling letter winner and recent Buford High graduate.
"I didn’t want her to do it at first, but eventually she talked me into it," her father replied. "It was tough, her wrestling boys. But she came in and instantly had success."
That early success carried on throughout her career at Buford where she became the first female wrestler to place in the Gwinnett County Championships, made four consecutive appearances at the Class AA state meet, and amassed a career record of 153-78. Her successful career will culminate tonight, when she will be presented with the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame 2008 Star of the Year Award.
"It’s a big deal, but I don’t know much about it," Tia ,19, said of the honor. "I was pretty excited when I found out. I’ve worked so long at (wrestling) and I’m finally getting something out of it.
"I just wrestled because I like it," she added. "I didn’t know any awards that you could get for it."
The award that Forrester along with Scott Rigsby, the first double-amputee to complete an ironman triathlon, is receiving tonight is one that the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame hands out each year to an athlete or team that has had a big accomplishment in sports.
In 2007, the Collins Hill High girls basketball team, which won its third consecutive state title and finished the season ranked No. 1 by USA Today, and the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team were the Star of the Year award recipients.
"When you look at her performance, especially against males, it’s a very significant accomplishment," Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame president Larry Winter said of Tia, who placed third in the Area 6-AA meet this year, and second in the Big Red Rumble in 2007. "The award is our way of capturing moments in sports that people will remember 10 years from now."
Tia’s moments are definitely memorable, especially considering how many barriers she’s had to break through.
As one of a very small amount of female wrestlers, Tia’s main competitors on the mat were male, which caused a problem not only for her, but also her counterparts.
"Many times teams didn’t even send out a wrestler to compete against her," Buford head coach Gary McCroskey said. "She was good, and a lot of guys didn’t want to get beat by her."
While those snubs bothered her, it didn’t deter her from wrestling.
"It’s hard for me because I want to go out there and wrestle," she said. "Knowing that they don’t want to wrestle me because I’m a girl kind of affects me.
"But when that happens, I just go out there, get my hand raised and its another win for me."
And when her opponents did step on the mat to face her, the competition was less girl against guy, and more wrestler against wrestler.
"We never had any issues with (inappropriate touching)," her father said. "It was just straight out wrestling. Boys knew that she was good, so they wrestled her like they would another guy."
But unlike when they wrestled against another guy, Tia would often make her oppponents cry.
"It doesn’t feel good when they cry," she admitted, referring to how some of her opponents reacted after they lost to a girl. "Yeah, they just lost to a girl and they’re going to get (stuff) from their teammates, but in a way it makes you feel bad when they cry."
And how many guys has she made cry?
"I don’t know the number, but quite a few."
When not making opponents cry, she had to overcome attitudes and stereotypes on her own team.
"It was hard to bond because we had a girl," said Tia’s brother Scottie, who won the Class AA state title in the 145-pound weight division this year. "We had to watch what we did and what we said."
But that didn’t mean his sister didn’t belong on the team.
"A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, she’s a girl. She’s going to get hurt. She doesn’t need to be here. She’s not like us,’" Scottie said. "I just always said, look how good she is and she has to work harder to do what she does to keep her respect on the team and in the wrestling community."
Outside of the wrestling community, specifically among her high school peers, Tia also had to earn her respect.
"People say I go out there just because I want to wrestle with a guy, but that’s not the case," she said. "There’s other girls, and I know they think the same way I do. We go out there because we like it. Just like girls go out there and play football, it’s because they like it."
When her peers aren’t questioning her reasons for wrestling, Tia is having to defend her femininity, as well.
"Some question it, but I just go on," she admitted. "I know what’s true and what’s not."
Along with parental discouragement that mentality among young girls will prevent females from trying out for the sport, according to Tia.
"A girl will come up to me and say, ‘I want to wrestle like you,’" Tia said. "But then her parent will be like, ‘No, you don’t want to do that.’ I say, Let them do what they want to do.
"Parents and girls are too scared of what other people will say about them," she added. "It’ll be quite a while before girl wrestling gets as big as guy wrestling."
For now, that’s something she doesn’t have to worry about, as she is on the verge of joining the women’s wrestling team at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
There, unlike in high school, when she steps on the mat sporting the Lady Patriots singlet, Tia Forrester will do something that she has rarely done in her life: Compete against her own gender.