CHICAGO — Dulce Reyes relishes proving people wrong every time she steps on a wrestling mat.
Before she decided to join Lake View High School's wrestling team, she said family, friends, classmates and others told her the sport wasn't for girls.
"That's why I joined — to prove them wrong," said Dulce, a freshman from Logan Square.
Dulce is not alone in that mindset at Lake View. Two other girls — senior Vanessa Munoz of Rogers Park and junior Daniela Garcia of Logan Square — also wrestle for the Wildcats, who also have 15 male wrestlers.
"Wrestling has shown me what hard work and dedication can do," said Munoz, who's also wrestling for the first time this year. "It's taught me never to give up."
Girls wrestling is on the rise nationally. Last school year, a Statista report showed there were 250,653 varsity boy high school wrestlers and 13,456 girls; in 2009-10, there were 272,890 boy wrestlers and 6,134 girl grapplers. A few states like California, Texas and Hawaii have girls-only high school wrestling divisions, but in most states, like Illinois, the sport is coed, with girls competing on mostly boys teams.
All three of the Lake View girl wrestlers have won varsity matches this season against boys in their weight classes. Wildcats coach Vaughn Camacho said he was "in awe of how hard" the girls work in practice and meets.
"I have seen leaps of confidence from all the girls this season as they are now starting to win matches against boys," Camacho said. "I've even been moved to tears at times."
Daniela has been on Lake View's wrestling squad for two years. She said the sport has taught her how to defend herself in any situation, which is "the most incredible feeling."
She credited Camacho for pairing the girls against the boys in practice matches and treating all wrestlers the same.
The only difference is the three girls change into wrestling gear in a bathroom, while the boys use a wrestling room.
Camacho "doesn't just put the girls on one side and the boys on the other side," Daniela said. "That's something I admire about my coach."
Dulce, who has three years left at Lake View, said wrestling will continue to shape the rest of her high school years.
"Wrestling has made me better in terms of how I eat and exercise, or really caring what others tell me," she said. "I was scared until I actually tried it. When I knew what I was doing, that's when you feel like you're bettering yourself."
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