After helping start Burke/Gregory's girls wrestling program, Daytona Paris gets a taste of state meet

Feb. 22—SIOUX FALLS — It began as an idea met with skepticism.

Two girls at Burke High School, sophomore Daytona Paris, and freshman Libby Krcil, declared they were going to start the school's girls wrestling program, and nobody seemed to take them seriously.

This was, according to Paris, in part because people thought they were joking, and in part because, "a lot of people didn't want to incorporate girls with such a male-dominated sport."

But sure enough, the girls showed up to practice the first day of the season, and soon, the idea evolved into a serious endeavor.

Four months later, history was made when Paris — who had never wrestled before the season — became the first Burke/Gregory girls wrestler to compete at the state tournament on Thursday morning at the Premier Center.

"I've always been told I was a fast learner," Paris said. " ... It's just overall nice to see the progression and I just really surprised myself this year."

"It was a joke at first," Krcil said. "Me and Daytona were laughing about it like, 'We could be wrestlers.' But then people told us that we would never do it and that there was no way we could ... and we were like 'OK.' So we did it."

Paris, the Naper, Nebraska resident, finished the regular season with a 13-7 record to earn the spot in the 132-pound bracket. She said she didn't even know how to do a duck walk when she started training. Now, she's "throwing cradles" at the state tournament.

Unseeded in the tournament, Paris lost by fall in her first-round matchup was against the No. 1 seed, Summer Guthmiller of Sioux Valley. She will wrestle in the wrestlebacks on Friday morning.

But the dissapointment of losing her first match paled in comparision to the happiness she felt when she learned she had made state, and raced to out of the classroom to call her mom.

"I just remember crying and being just overjoyed," Paris said. "I thought about how much I worked and how much I put in just to prove people wrong that wrestling isn't just a male-dominated sport, that everyone can do it. And if you want something you just have to work for it."

Joel Johnson, the former boys head coach and team volunteer who offered to coach the girls, couldn't be more pleased with Paris' accomplishment, and the girls' overall effort to start the program.

"I did not know until Day 1 that they were actually going to come (and join)," he said. "It could have been a joke. I was pleasantly surprised when they showed up.

"All of them have thrown all the misconceptions and stereotypes out the window ... They don't care what anybody else says, they're out there to wrestle and enjoy themselves."

This is the fourth year of sanctioned girls high school wrestling in South Dakota, with more schools adding the sport when girls like Paris and Krcil step forward to say they want to compete. A total of 192 wrestlers from 62 teams were competing this year at the state meet.

To start the program, Paris and Krcil talked to the athletic director and principal to get the OK, and then, the idea was approved by the school board. After the first practice, they were hooked.

"We went in there and it was just different," Krcil said. "It just felt real, like something I would stick to for the rest of my high school career, maybe if I make it to college."

As the season progressed, the tune of skeptics changed as well. Some of those naysayers, Krcil said, began checking in on how girls' tournaments were going and showing their support.

And now, the program is growing. Two friends said they would join the team in the future, and they hope to have a more complete team next year.

"We did not know until basically Day 1 of practice that we were going to for sure have girls," Johnson said. "We had two and now we got four. And sounds like we're going to have a bunch next year."