ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Female wrestlers at the high school level have been around for quite a while, and we have some of the best ones in the state and in the nation here in the Stateline, but they’ve always wrestled as individuals because none of our local schools has had a girls-only team, until now.

Rockford East High School is the first local school to step out and form an all-girls team this season. I caught up with the E-Rabs at practice, working on their skills on mats in the field house.

Sophomore Mimi Irizarry is one of the girls who seized the chance to join the team when she got the news that East was fielding one.

“I was really excited because, well, before we wrestled the guys and we had to wear guys’ singlets and stuff, but I’m really happy now because we get girls’ warmups, girls’ singlets, and now it’s more, like growing intense. It’s more fun now.”

The head coach is Madelynn Hongmoungkhoune. She wrestled at East as part of the boys’ program before graduating three years ago.

“Women’s wrestling is growing so much in the city. For East to be the first program to have their own girls’ program separated from the boys, it’s something that I’ve always hoped for and wished for. It’s an honor to be chosen for this position.”

There are only five girls on East’s team, but principal Jim Parker and long-time boys’ wrestling coach Gene Lee felt it was time now to take girls’ wrestling to the next level.

“Our principal here at East said if there’s one girl, there needs to be a girls’ coach, and we need to have a girls’ team. We’ve got to start somewhere, so that’s what he did,” said Lee.

East will even be hosting a girls’ team tournament the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Lee. “We’ve got 23 teams entered in that.”

Other than that though, East’s girls will have to travel outside of our area for competitions.

The last couple years girls’ high school wrestling has become a sanctioned IHSA sport with its own state tournament. Last season, there were only sectional tournaments that fed into the state tournament. The number of wrestlers is so high now that regional tournaments have been added to feed into the sectionals. The feeling is girls’ wrestling will continue to grow quickly.

“Ten years from now? I mean, for our program I hope to at least have 80 girls,” said Hongmoungkoune. “Have the same size, everything that the boys have, for everything to be just as big as it is for the boys for the girls.”

“We’re going to make the best of it and have a good time and recruit more girls,” said Lee.

Other schools in the Rockford area have discussed adding girls’ wrestling teams. With East leading the way, they might make the same move in the next few years.