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Girl grappler wins top honors in national tourney

HILLSDALE - When Joanna Levy was in the eighth grade, she went to see her cousin wrestle. She thought it was the most boring thing in the world.

But the next year when coach Jeff Zerba came into her freshman class at Cleveland High School and asked if anyone was interested in wrestling, Levy figured she would give it a shot.

She liked it.

Now, at the end of her high school career, the Hillsdale resident has more than a few wins under her belt - and March 29 she took home sixth place at a national United States Girls Wrestling Association tournament in Levonia, Mich.

Because the female branch of the sport is so underdeveloped, Levy has often found herself sparring against boys as well as girls. She doesn't mind, though.

'I don't think of wrestling a girl or wrestling a boy, it's just wrestling.'

But sometimes, other people do mind. Last year, when Levy qualified for the boys state tournament, a mother came up to her and said she was 'appalled' that a girl would wrestle.

'I never really thought of it as breaking a stereotype. I thought it was fun,' Levy said.

And, she said, her coach and teammates have always been supportive.

'She's done a great job at Cleveland,' Zerba said. 'She has just a super work ethic.'

As the only girl on the team, Levy supposes that the only thing she misses out on is locker room patter, but, she said with a laugh, 'I'm OK with that.'

Outside of wrestling, Levy is on track to receive the Girl Scouts' highest honor, the Gold Award, when she hosts a sports and fitness fair for fifth- through ninth-grade girls at The Hoop in Beaverton, June 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Levy said that she used to be unhealthy and inactive when she was younger, but knows now that she just hadn't found the right activity. For the growing number of children who are struggling with obesity, she said they need to be exposed to a variety of activities.

'They're not active because they haven't found an activity that they really enjoy doing,' she said.

And, of course, she said wrestling is a good option.

'It's a great sport, it's great exercise. It teaches you great discipline, and it's a lot of fun,' she said.

Levy plans to attend Sterling College in the fall to study Outdoor Education and Leadership in the hopes of getting a career in leading groups such as Outward Bound. That means her competitive wrestling days are over, but she'd still like to do club sports or coach.

She no longer thinks wrestling is the most boring thing in the world.

Get Involved!

Those interested in volunteering at Levy's sports and fitness fair should write to her at sportsandfitnessfairyahoo.com.