Girls wrestling made history this year when Lynette Samano won the state championship for the 120 weight division for girl wrestlers. This is the first year that girls from all three high schools competed under a combined team, Bellingham United, and their first state win. Samano’s victory at state was particularly sweet because she had previously wrestled and lost against her final opponent, Payton Stroud from White River High School, three times.

Making it their own

Girls haven’t always had their own team. Until about seven years ago they practiced with the boys teams and didn’t have their own coach or infrastructure. That changed when Squalicum High School Athletics Coordinator Patrick Brown worked to create a “co-op” for all girls wrestlers across Bellingham’s high schools.

This season, under the direction of Coach Brian Porteous, the team became a “combine,” which allows the girls to score points as a team (as opposed to for their school) and place in tournaments. They also received a boost from the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, supported by team fundraising, which allowed them to buy new “Bellingham United” singlets, jackets, shorts and bags.

Building community

Beyond having the right equipment, Bellingham United coaches and volunteers worked to cultivate a team spirit and caring as part of their weekly preparation and practice.

“Wrestling is so hard, you have to give them a reason to show up,” says Porteous, who is in his third year coaching the girls team, having previously served as assistant coach for boys wrestling at Squalicum.

For Samano, family problems complicated her life when she was younger and wrestling offered an escape and an arena to focus on the task ahead. “You enter another atmosphere – a community of love and hard work,” says Samano.

When asked about how wrestling has impacted her life, Samano mentioned a quote from 1972 U.S.A. Olympic Wrestling Team member and notable coach Dan Gable, “’Once you wrestle, everything in life becomes easier.’ In life you face so many challenges. Wrestling helps you know you can do better.”

To Porteous, Samano’s win was a storybook ending to the season.

“Now, with Lynette’s championship, it shows other girls what they’re capable of,” says Porteous. “Anybody can make it to state. It doesn’t matter your background; you just have to put in the energy to do what it takes. We couldn’t ask for a better representative for girls wrestling.”

Samano wasn’t the only team member facing challenges. Stephanie Carillo had recently given birth to a baby boy when Coach Porteous recruited her to wrestle. In order to participate she brought her baby to practices and tournaments, and volunteers and teammates would take turns caring for him.

“The team wrapped around her and said, ‘we want you to be a part of this,’” said Porteous.

When Transportation was unable to find a vehicle to accommodate a car seat, Director of Transportation Rae Anne Thon drove Carillo’s son to the tournament in Sedro-Woolley.

Looking ahead

Samano, a senior at Bellingham High School and member of the dean’s list at Whatcom Community College, plans to study nursing while continuing wrestling in college. She has already received scholarship offers for wrestling, but is only considering schools that have nursing programs.

What’s next for the team? When the season starts in mid-November Porteous is hoping for a full roster. Someday, he hopes to have three girls at each weight class and he just might get there considering the interest at the middle school level.

There are already 15 young women on the co-ed team at Shuksan Middle School. In fact, one in four wrestlers at Shuksan are girls.

Shuksan Principal Amy Carder recently attended a district wide match, “In each and every case, I marveled at how these young women had the confidence to don their singlets and hit the mat, time and again, to continuously challenge themselves to learn and excel in a male dominated sport.”

During a dual meet at Whatcom Middle School where two Shuksan female wrestlers pinned their male opponents Carder said she couldn’t help exclaiming, “You make me proud to be a woman!”

To young women who haven’t considered wrestling before Samano emphasizes that she also had some hesitations at first. “Don’t be afraid to try it,” says Samano. “Get out of your comfort zone. If you’re lonely or don’t have community, wrestling is the perfect place for you. It’s a community where we love and care for one another.”

Team photo credit: Ben Bender photography. 

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