Brighton girls wrestling showing promiseDec 01, 2023 09:03AM ● By Jerry S. Christensen
Elise Lewis, Mei Mei Engebretsen and Lydia Lewis ready for the season. (Photo L1quid Photography)
Prior to 2021, if a female student athlete wanted to participate in the high sport of wrestling, she would simply join the “wrestling” team. There was no stipulation about who could join wrestling and who couldn’t. It was a coed sport—there were no boys wrestling teams nor were there girls wrestling teams. All participants were to be treated equally.
Enid Ennis, who was a Utah Sports Hall of Fame coach at Brighton 50 years ago, made it her mission to expand the availability of high school sports to female athletes. She coached state championship gymnastics teams at Brighton as well as softball and volleyball.
“Girls were relegated to participate in just a few sports—a fraction of what their fellow male students were able to,” recalls Ennis.
In a recent tour of the new Brighton High School, Ennis inspected her trophies that still line the gym’s display cases. She was gratified to see that her early work has paid off with girls sports nearly approaching the number of boys sports available. Girls lacrosse, rugby, soccer and now wrestling have recently been added as club and UHSAA sanctioned high sports.
UHSAA officially sanctioned girls wrestling as an official sport starting in the 2020-2021 season. COVID cast a pale on the first season, but it has become the fastest growing high school sport in Utah. That growth in Utah matches the trend in other states that included girls wrestling years ago.
Brighton reached deep this year to give the up-and-coming sport a female wrestling coach unmatched in 5A sports, Coach Joidee Gappmayer.
Of “Coach Joidee” Principal Tom Sherwood, who made the appointment, said “she has a passion for wrestling and for celebrating student athletes. She is skilled, dedicated and highly organized.”
Joidee has been involved in wrestling ever since she was in high school. After getting married to a wrestler, she knew she would become much more involved when her two sons began wrestling 10 years ago. She has been coaching wrestling since 2013 and involved with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Unified BJJ since 2016. She was assistant coach for the Brighton boys wrestling program 2022-2023. She will be assisted this year by Coach Christine Yee, an esteemed English teacher at Brighton, and Coach Gavyn Gappmayer, a Brighton four-time state wrestler.
“We have four returning wrestlers, and two returning state qualifiers. Along with our incoming freshman wrestlers and other new faces, we are excited to watch our girls program grow this season!” Joidee Gappmayer said.
She has set it as a team goal to have each girl qualify for state. The boys and girls wrestling teams have attracted so many student athletes that an auxiliary mat has been set up in the field house for practices.
Mei Mei Engebretsen, a dedicated sophomore wrestler, was inspired to join wrestling by her father and her hero Heaven Fitch who in 2020 became the first girl wrestler to take state—as the only girl in North Carolina in a male dominated sport. “She proved to me that a girl can excel in this sport,” Ingebretsen said.
Junior Adrina Tavita is recovering from ACL surgery this summer. She came to wrestling just to strengthen her body and technique for rugby and excelled at the sport placing at state. Tavita has quick feet and strong resolve to be cleared from the surgery and to compete again at the highest level.
Senior Lydia Lewis has been with the team since it became a sanctioned sport. She has grown immensely from her first win as a sophomore—after which Coach Yee recalls “we both cried tears of joy.” She is a strong team leader who is eager to help her teammates improve.
“It is a hard sport, but very worthwhile,” Lewis said.
At the 5A state meet last season, she pushed herself to learn from every match even as she struggled with an elbow injury. She has been a Brighton wrestling fan since her brother Malcom wrestled for the boys team.
“I know she stresses about what she can do to be a good leader and help everyone. She has high expectations for herself, too. I know she’s hungry to get on the podium and place this year in the state tournament,” Yee said. λ