Relishing the opportunity to empower not only her daughter Julia but other Challis middle school girls, wrestling coach Lisa Banks said it’s been a great first season as a coach.

Banks said five girls joined the junior high team this year. This is an encouraging sign in a national trend where more girls are getting into the sport, according to Banks, who said she wished she saw the same growing up.

“I would have loved a female coach growing up,” said Banks, a former college wrestler.

There are natural differences between boys and girls, Banks said, which means unless there’s enough girls on the team to practice together, they are often discouraged from joining. However, because more girls are getting interested in the sport locally, Banks said an opportunity exists to advance Challis wrestling by offering opportunities to youths who were initially left out.

“These girls are tough,” Banks said as the boys and girls stretched out before practicing moves. “It won’t be long till they’re stronger than me.”

When it comes to a physical sport like wrestling, Banks said it’s always a good idea to set boundaries. At the beginning of the season, Banks said she and other coaches spoke with the entire team and explained how things would work.

“Girls wrestle girls, boys wrestle boys,” she summarized.

It was a bumpy start, Banks admitted. Having so many girls on the team of 13 wrestlers meant ordering girl singlets, which Banks said was easier said than done. When asked why the girls couldn’t just wear boys singlets with a shirt underneath, Banks explained why that wouldn’t work.

“Girls have different bodies than boys,” Banks said. “We grow differently in different areas.”

Growth was the goal for the season, according to Banks. Knowing that some of her wrestlers might be inexperienced, Banks said the best part of this first year has been seeing the athletes improve.

When it came time to practice groundwork, Banks bounced between her female wrestlers. If seventh-grader Sabina Bennetts needed help on her front headlock, or if sixth-grader Josie Reed had to change her position, Banks was able to get on the mat with the girls and show them right from wrong.

As she did this, male wrestlers Teage Erickson and Travis Lloyd worked together. During a break both seventh-grade boys said since the girls joined the team, things haven’t changed much.

“When we’re on the mat, we just wrestle,” Erickson said.