NEWARK — Look down the line of chairs at a Newark wrestling meet. You’ll see the kids who are itchy to get out onto the mat. There are others who are totally focused on the task ahead. A few are hurt or didn’t qualify for the night’s competition.
Then there’s someone else, and she carries herself a lot like the guys on the team. There’s something different about her. Something poised. Something certain. And inside all of that, a quiet level of strength.
Monica Mason is a wrestler, and a darn good one.
Ask about her and prepare to be surprised. She’s the junior class president. Member of student council. Part of the environmental club and jazz choir and Interact. Honor Roll student. President of the Varsity Club.
“She likes to participate in a lot of things,” her mom Marcella said. “She’s really involved in school.”
In the fall, she was the goalie and MVP for the girls varsity soccer team, with the lowest goals-per-game average (1.5) in almost two decades. In the spring, you’ll find her anchoring third base for the softball team.
But now it’s winter, and she is immersed in her favorite sport, something that’s been dear to her since she was a little girl.
In a recent Newark JV tournament, Monica was on the mat twice and won both times, pinning her opponents — both males.
In a recent loss to Wayne Central, the Reds hoped to have Monica on the varsity, but she had yet to go through the selective classification physical to qualify as a female competing against males.
She has passed her tests for mixed competition classification and will wrestle at 195 pounds on Tuesday at North Rose-Wolcott.
'Our quiet assassin'
Mason is not the first female to wrestle with the boys, but it’s hardly commonplace.
Freshman Katlin Wells wrestles at Marcus Whitman, where she competed for the modified team last year. The team’s online roster also includes Mia Smith.
Newark first-year wrestling coach Theron Chinn has already developed a healthy respect for her.
“She deserves to be here (at the varsity level) as much as anyone else,” he said. “Her skills? Balance, flexibility, she always has good position, she’s hard to score on, good mat position — things you can’t teach. She’s a coach’s dream. Monica has the confidence of all her years of experience in wrestling — since she was in it in third grade — and her competitions at the national level.”
He noted Mason’s reserved nature and shook his head, smiling.
“She’s our quiet assassin,” he said. “That confidence is another thing you can’t teach. You can give a lot of positive reinforcement, but a kid either has it or doesn’t.”
Page 2 of 3 - Mason’s dad, Curtis, was a wrestler in high school and he began to teach her the moves early. She was on pee-wee teams by third grade and starting to rack up wins — against boys — as the lone female competitor. Her dad would go through moves and techniques with her on the living room floor after a meet.
She said her femininity gives her an advantage.
“Most of the time the boys don’t want to lose to you, so they try hard to beat you,” she said. “Even if a guy is stronger than you, you can still beat him because you know the moves.”
She started wrestling at the modified level in Lyons, where her mom, Marcella, was teaching in the district. When Marcella got a job in Newark, the family moved there.
“I won most of my modified matches,” Monica said. “I won the most matches out of everybody on the team.” She was wrestling at 160 and 170 pounds.
In eighth grade, she took a step up and started attending regional United States Girls Wrestling Association tournaments. She was first at 180 pounds in Baldwinsville, and by ninth grade, the family car’s odometer got a workout as she wrestled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where she was first again. She attended the nationals at Eastern Michigan State and finished second.
Monica says that wrestling guys really helps in the USGWA events “because most of the girls are not as strong. It just helps when you wrestle boys all year. Most of the girls in the USGWA are on girls’ teams and are just used to wrestling girls.” As a sophomore, she was second in the USGWA nationals again after placing first at the Gene Mills Eastern National Tournament in Syracuse.
As the only female on an otherwise all-male team, Mason has to go through a few special arrangements, dressing in the girls’ locker room then cutting through the coaches’ office to get to the wrestling room.
She likes being on Chinn’s team.
“He pushes us,” she said. “He’s good. He’s really relatable; he just talks to us. It’s easy to ask him a question.”
As someone who is successful on two team sports and in one individual endeavor, Mason says she has a different perspective in each season.
“When you win in soccer, you have a feeling of accomplishing something so good,” she said. “As the goalie, you have a view of the whole field and what’s going on. In softball, I like the interaction with the team, the relationships with the other players.
“In wrestling, you have to have mental focus, thinking you can do it. I’m not thinking, ‘He’s so big, I can’t do it,’" she continued. "Then I like winning the match. Sometimes when the boys wrestle me, they’ll laugh at me. Some are freaked out.”
Page 3 of 3 - Those who aren’t serious are in for a surprise. Monica is dead serious. Remember what coach Chinn called her?
Her parents get a little edgy, understandably.
“My mom likes me wrestling, but both my parents sometimes get scared because I’m in an upper weight and the boys are big … but they support me.”
Chinn said he has done nothing special, per se, for Mason.
“I don’t know that she’s all that much different from our other wrestlers,” he said. “I coach her the same way I coach any other wrestler. If I didn’t, the athlete would know, and that’s not being honest. She deserves to be here as much as anyone else.”