January 2, 2024

Empowering Athletes: South Lake High’s Girls Wrestling Initiative

3.8 min read| Published On: January 2nd, 2024|

By Kyle Coppola

Empowering Athletes: South Lake High’s Girls Wrestling Initiative

3.8 min read| Published On: January 2nd, 2024|

South Lake High School is known for many things but one of the things they are very proud about is being the only school in Lake County with a girl’s wrestling program. Led by coach Brant Pawolwski it is amazing how the program even got started.

As one of the fastest growing sports in the USA, women’s wrestling has grown tremendously in different regions of America especially in the northeast and Midwest regions of our country. That expansion has trickled into Florida with programs beginning to pop up around our state.

(The only female wrestling team in Lake County has been steadily building the past few years. Courtney Parmenter and Karyn Larkin became the school’s first state placers in 2016.)

One of these areas is Groveland. South Lake High School did not have a high school wrestling team a few years ago. Neither did many of the high school programs in Lake or Sumter counties. That is until Brant Pawlowski decided there was a need for the program.

Pawlowski started the wrestling program 11 years ago. He originally started the program for his son Travis who was 8 years old at the time but had nowhere to wrestle when he reached the high school level. So Pawlowski borrowed $10,000 to buy a wrestling mat. He then found six businesses (CEMEX, Uncle Matts Organic Orange Juice, Campground Memberships, Tavis Reality and Curly’s Concrete) to donate an amount for five years to pay off the loan on the mat. The wrestling program proved to be a hit with boys at the school and they even attracted some girls who would go on to wrestle with the boys during the early years.

(Up until a few years ago girls had to wrestle boys. But since girls wrestling became a sanctioned sport three years ago, girls no longer have to wrestle boys although some still choose to do this.)

In return the program placed the business decals on the mat at every tournament and honored them at their home meet with a dinner sponsored by Oakwood Smoke house. Since then, the program has grown with both the boys and girls programs beginning to take off in popularity at the school. Travis Pawlowski ended up as a very successful wrestler at the school. He made it to States 3 times and finished off his career taking 3rd place at States. Girls wrestling was sanctioned just three years ago in Florida and has been steadily growing.

“Girl’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing varsity sports in high school in America. We have more state placers in girls wrestling than any other sports at South Lake High School. We have only been around 10 years and two of our girls have gone on to wrestle in college.” said Pawlowski.

(Former South Lake Wrestlers have gone on to wrestle in college. Jojo Medina wrestled at Adrian College in Michigan from 2020-2022. Karen Larkin wrestled for three years at Saint Mary’s Leavenworth in Kansas. She was ranked 11th in the nation at one point.)

Before girls wrestling was sanctioned by the state of Florida many of the girls would compete in the boys’ classes. Girls still competed in States because the schools with girls wrestling programs got together to create a trophy. However the difference now is that girls wrestling is an actual sanctioned sport meaning girls compete against girls in wrestling meets during the season. Before there would only be a State competition for girls but now they compete at various sanctioned matches during the year. “Girls don’t have to compete against the boys anymore. It does still happen but it’s not as common as it used to be.” said Pawlowski.

(Zoe Williamson was one of two South Lake wrestlers to medal at states in 2022.)

(Grisbet Guzman was a trailblazer in womens wrestling for South Lake. Just like Zoe Williamson, Guzman would go on to medal at States in 2022.)

The two girls who have made the biggest impact recently on the South Lake program to date have been Grisbet Guzman and Zoe Williamson. Both girls competed at States in 2022. These girls are just some of the wrestlers who have been leading the way for future athletes of the sport especially in Lake County. These two athletes made a lasting impact on the program which continues to grow each year.

(The Ladies Wrestling State Placers banner hangs proudly in the South Lake Gym. This is the only High School banner in Lake County dedicated to famale wrestlers. Hopefully that changes in the coming years.)

“I went to a few programs in Lake County to gauge the interest in girls wrestling. There was interest there at all schools I visited, but South Lake was the only program who green-lit the girls wrestling program.” says Pawlowski. The hope is that other schools see the value in giving girls the opportunity to compete in the sport of wrestling. Hopefully it catches on like weightlifting, beach volleyball and other sports in our area that are seeing an uptick in programs offered for female athletes. We love seeing the dedication and work being done and applaud South Lake High’s efforts to provide a platform like this.

We look forward to how the sport of girls wrestling will continue to evolve in the coming years. South Lake is leading the way for young women to take part in one of the oldest sports on our planet.

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Rob McCue January 2, 2024 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Wonderful story! Glad to see this program flourishing!

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About the Author: Kyle Coppola

Kyle Coppola was born in Newton, Massachusetts and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications from Curry College in 2016. After traveling to Florida on a family vacation, he decided he could not get enough of the warm weather and made the move from snowy Massachusetts to central Florida 8 years ago.

For the last decade Kyle has gained valuable experience in social media content creation, marketing and sales, writing, video production, sports announcing and even broadcasting for local radio stations, such as FM 102.9 in The Villages and FM 91.5 in Massachusetts. Every year he volunteers at The Villages Charter High School as a play-by-play sports announcer for the football games as well as a public address announcer for the basketball games, including the annual Battle at The Villages Tournament.

Outside the office Kyle is a husband and father to two beautiful girls along with their cat. In his spare time he likes to spend time with his family, travel, play golf and swim. He is also a huge sports junkie and even bigger motorsports fan and loves to attend racing events when he can.

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