COVINGTON, Ga. — There isn’t much that gets India Page all giddy and excited. But when Newton wrestling coach Tommy Gregory drops the news that preparations for the 2019-20 wrestling season starts next week, it was enough to pull a mile-wide smile across her face.
“Yes,” she exclaimed with a pump of the fist when Gregory said his Newton grapplers, not even a week removed from the GHSA traditionals state tournament in Macon, would dive into preseason workouts on Monday.
Why does it matter for Page? Well, when you’re the first known girl wrestler to place at the first ever GHSA girls wrestling state tournament, such news holds lots of weight for her future.
Page placed fifth in last week’s state traditionals tournament, marking history for Newton while the GHSA was making its own. She fought in the 160-pound weight class. With a maybe a handful of exceptions, she trained and battled with the guys all season long, in workouts, practices and even meets.
And as a female in a male-dominated sport, Page said she fits in perfectly.
“I mean, ever since I was younger I never really liked girly things,” Page said. “I even wanted to try out for the football team. I asked a couple of times. I still want to. But when the thought of wrestling came, I was like, okay, it’s not the girliest sport. It’s fun. It’s a lot of guys. Not a whole lot of girl activity going on, but it’s just fun, so I went for it.”
It’s not the first time she’s tried, though. Page, a junior at Newton, had dalliances with the sport during her freshman and sophomore years, but she quit before she could truly get started.
“Even this year, I think she was going to not stay with the team,” Gregory said. “But we encouraged her and she bought in, she put in the work. She was okay with wrestling boys because we didn’t have any girls on the team, so we trained her the best way we could, and most of it came from her side.”
Gregory conjured up the term, “stick-to-it-tive-ness” to describe Page’s resolve to keep pursuing the sport her third time around. And although she definitely had her fair share of success on the mats this year, for Page, her desire to stick and stay is bigger than just that.
“After all the hard workouts with (coach Gregory), I was like, alright, my body’s looking good. I’m getting toned out, and really the team just became a family,” she said. “I like hanging with these people. I love these people, so why not go all the way with them? That’s really what I thought. The experience was fun. I liked wrestling with the guys and showing them girls can do some of the same things they can do.”
Sometimes Page’s combination of aggressiveness and skill rubbed some wrestlers the wrong way.
“There were some boys who thought that because they were wrestling a girl they were going to have an easy day,” Gregory said. “And they would get embarrassed — and they shouldn’t have — because she was handling her on the mat, and they did her wrong on that mat because of it. She had one match where a guy did a wrong move on her to get her off of him. He was disqualified, of course, and she won the match. But it showed that she was putting that kind of pressure on guys on the mat.”
And while Page says it’s never her goal to necessarily embarrass someone, she saw no need to hold back her competitive fire just because she’s a girl.
“When that would happen, I’d say, ‘Hey, you’re mad. I got you though. I got you shook, and now you’re scared of me,’” she said. “It intimidates you for a female to be able to handle you like that. So now it’s like, yeah you may win at the end of the day, but I’m showing what I can do. I have another year, and I’ll be even more ready next year.”
Even more than sticking it to the boys she faces, Page is already amped up for next season because of how this year at state ended.
Although she finished a respectable fifth place in Macon, both she and Gregory feel like she was cheated out of a higher finish — and perhaps even a shot at a state title.
It happened in her first match where she maneuvered an opponent to pin her, but ended up being called for a fall herself.
“Her opponent’s shoulders were stacked on the mat and the ref’s looking,” Gregory said. “The ref walks around, looks at my wrestler’s shoulders and said India’s shoulders were laying flat. So she called a pin on her, even though India had pinned the other girl already.”
It looked so much like an obvious win for Page, that Gregory said even the announcers calling out winners inside the Macon Centreplex were confused.
“The announcer actually said, ‘India Page wins by fall’,” Gregory said. “And then the ref looks at us, shakes his head and lifts the other girl’s hand up. We went as berserk as we could be while staying professional. We went up to a GHSA official, and even though he said he understood and empathized with us, he couldn’t reverse it.
“We kept fighting. She wrestled back up to fifth place.”
But it was still probably the toughest moment in an otherwise satisfying first full season for Page.
“I had to walk it off after that loss,” she said. “I was upset. They took something from me I really wanted. I had to walk off to manage my feelings and let (my coaches) handle the situation. I went into my space. I cried. I just don’t like people taking things from me that I truly deserve.”
Both Page and Gregory believe the loss ignited and even hotter fire inside her to compete even harder and set a goal to be the one standing on top of the podium this time next year.
“I’m not saying I’m the best out there, but I was watching the other girls at the state tournament and I was like, ‘let me drop a couple of weight classes,’” she said. “I know next year I’m getting first. I said that after I lost. I posted it on Instagram that if anyone gets in my way next year, it’s not gonna be a pretty sight. Let’s just say that.”
And Gregory sees it happening, too.
“I’m real excited about her energy,” he said. “First-time wrestler placing fifth in the GHSA’s first all-female bracket. When you think of it, at sectionals you had 249 girls. From sectionals 130 made it to state. She’s fifth out of 130. Those things lining up and coming together give her momentum to really be the first of the first of the first here at Newton.”
Page’s success has also Gregory in his quest to put wresting at Newton on the map while expanding the popularity of the sport.
“Her energy is inspiring us to create a girls wrestling team,” he said. “It’s contagious. You’ve got a lot of people now showing interest and saying, ‘I didn’t know girls could wrestle.’ So next year, coach (Edgard) Gousse and I are putting together a girls wrestling team. When I first got started with this, I didn’t know that could happen, but it’s happening.”
And because Page is so grateful for what the sport — and specifically coach Gregory — has given her, she’ll be one of the main ones trying to push the enthusiasm.
“Coach Gregory, this is my man right her,” he said. “This is my buddy. I love this man like he’s my father. And everything I’ve experienced with this team is just fun. Like I said, we’re like a family, and this has been a great experience. It’s turned into something I want to do every day. It excites me, and I never get excited about anything. Now, after an amazing experience at state, it makes me want to try and do my best, try to win something. Try to be an achiever.”