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Wrestling: Kaitlin Loehmer and Aerielle McIntire are just athletes in a boys’ world

Chestwrestler KaitlLoehmer center looks with coaches teammates during practice Wednesday Dec. 26 2012. Loehmer 17 wrestles for varsity team. |

Cheston wrestler Kaitlin Loehmer, center, looks on with coaches and teammates during practice Wednesday Dec. 26, 2012. Loehmer, 17, wrestles for the varsity team. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 31, 2013 6:50AM



Forget the gender stereotypes in sports, for just a moment.

Kaitlin Loehmer of Chesterton and Aerielle McIntire of Knox are simply athletes who just happen to be competing in a sport dominated by boys.

Each has competed in other sports more suited for female athletes — from volleyball to gymnastics to track. But they have chosen wrestling as their winter sport of choice, in line with a growing trend across the nation.

The National Federation of State High School Associations 2011 survey revealed there were 7,351 girls competing in high school wrestling, up more than 1,200 from the previous year and about 2,000 more than in 2007. Most of the increase is attributed to five states that have sanctioned girls wrestling — Washington, Hawaii, California, Texas and Massachusetts. But participation is also on the rise in other states, especially since the women’s version became an Olympic sport in 2004.

McIntire and Loehmer aren’t on a quest to break down barriers or make a name for themselves. They just like this sport better than others.

Just one of the guys

Loehmer was a gymnast for 13 years while growing up and competes in the long jump, pole vault, 4x100 relay and 4x200 relay for the Chesterton High School track team.

For her, being a wrestler is just a matter of an athlete playing another sport.

“The only difference between her and the team now is a different locker room,” Chesterton wrestling coach Chris Joll said. “She brings the same things that any good wrestler does: A good work ethic and a positive attitude.”

Loehmer’s venture into wrestling didn’t come until her freshman year, although it may have started in fifth grade if she and a friend hadn’t been “too chicken to go” to a call-out meeting.

Two factors steered Loehmer, a junior, toward wrestling. First, her love for gymnastics had faded.

“I knew I was getting tired of gymnastics and I wanted to try something new,” she said.

Her two older brothers had wrestled for Joll in high school and when one of those siblings started a family of his own, Loehmer said she had to find a way to keep their relationship strong.

“He had two kids and our bond was starting to go away,” she said of her brother Chris. “He was the one I started wrestling for.”

One benefit for Loehmer when she started wrestling was the presence of Ashlee Barkeloo, another female wrestler who had already established herself on the team. But after Loehmer’s freshman season, Barkeloo moved to Peoria with her family.

As the lone girl on the team in the 2011-12 season, Loehmer flourished, advancing to the regional as an individual qualifier.

“We had six kids make a conscious effort to improve in the offseason, and she was one of them,” Joll said. “She’s seizing every opportunity available to her to get better.”

Small stature, big heart

As a freshman, McIntire is just a wisp of a girl at 4 feet 8 inches and 77 pounds. She’s almost frail-looking, but she’s a lot stronger than she looks.

She has competed in volleyball, soccer and track, but her favorite sport is wrestling. She has been wrestling since she was in first grade and she’s good enough to have dominated against boys in middle school.

McIntire has been three-time national champion against other girl wrestlers as a member of Knox’s One-on-One wrestling club. This season on the high school squad, she is wrestling boys that often weigh as much as 39 pounds more than her weight in the lowest class, 106.

McIntire has a 6-8 record in her first season, but there are not a lot of wrestlers to compete against in her weight class. She has won just one match, and that was against a female Jimtown wrestler. The other wins in dual meets have come through forfeits.

Knox coach Brian Windbigler admits it is a little disappointing he can’t teach her more to help her have a chance of winning.

“I feel I’m letting her down a little bit,” he said. “She knows how to wrestle, her technique is really good. She is just outsized — that’s kind of hard to teach. What she does, she does very well. We just have to work with her so that she can get better.”

“I believe she is going to be a four-year wrestler; she could put on some weight and start to win by the time she is a junior or senior.”

McIntire says she is going to stick it out.

“I think I can be competitive by the time I’m a junior,” she said. “I should be able to put on some weight, gain quickness and I think I have already improved. I have to wrestle my 121-pound teammate in practice.”

Former Knox wrestler Cody Majchrzak, a 2007 graduate who is now at Calumet College of St. Joseph, often returns to help out with some volunteer coaching and to watch his senior brother, Garrett, wrestle. His observation of McIntire says it all: “By far, Aerielle has the biggest heart on the team.”

Winning is important

Loehmer’s long gymnastics career has provided a strong foundation for wrestling.

“I know my body and I’ve built up a lot of strength,” she said. “I’m a lot more flexible than some of the guys. I know how my body can bend and everything else it can do. If I get stuck, I know how to get out of it.”

Along with her physical attributes, Loehmer also has an athlete’s mentality, featuring rock-solid confidence. She carries a cell phone case that reads “Wrestle like a girl, win like a champion.”

Loehmer’s translation of that slogan was: “Wrestle like you’re going to win and make it a point that you’re a girl winning in a sport that’s dominated by boys.”

So don’t be surprised to see long, blonde hair spill out of the headgear of a victorious wrestler at Chesterton matches this year.

And don’t be surprised to see McIntire’s hand raised in more matches in the near future.

After all, they are both athletes, not just girls in a boys wrestling world.

— deputy sports editor Steve T. Gorches contributed



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