Ronna Heaton’s commitment to the sport and her success on the mat have grown over the years, but she still faces resistance as a young woman competing in the traditionally male sport, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.
As the only girl at a tournament dominated by boys, the 15-year-old worries about her hair.
“I don’t like it all over the place,” Ronna said.
But it’s not because she’s overly self-conscious. Ronna is a wrestler.
It’s a sport the high school sophomore has devoted herself to since the 3rd grade. Even though she’s the first female to ever participate in South Dakota’s state wrestling tournament, she’s treating it like any other competition.
“I’ve already been in the crowd like this before and it feels like any tournament or match,” Ronna said. “I’m out there and I am trying to work hard and grind it out and beat them.”
Ronna’s had plenty of success in the sport she loves.
She even traveled to Sweden as a part of an Olympic wrestling development team.
This year, almost 10,000 female wrestlers will compete at the high school level across the country. A few states have enough competitors to warrant all-girls leagues, but not South Dakota.
Title IX gives young women the right to grapple with the boys, but not everyone’s on-board with the idea.
In high school, several boys forfeited matches rather than compete against her.
“Most of the boys that forfeited and didn’t wrestle her were boys that pretty confident that they were going to lose to her and didn’t want to get beat by a girl,” Ronna’s father Tim said. “Those boys didn’t make it to State.”
Jarod Roubideaux, who is also wrestling at the state championships, welcomes the competition.
“I’ve never wrestled a female. And I have nothing against it. They want to join the sport they can,” he said.
Jarod had early doubts about Ronna but now sees her as just another contender.
“She goes out there and wrestles like any other competitor, which I think that gives her an edge on a lot of other kids,” Jarod said. “Honestly, I am proud of her. She’s doing a hell of a job.”
“She’s slowly but surely turning into one of our better wrestlers. And, you know, know a lot of people are watching her and realizing it’s not a girl issue, it’s a wrestler issue, and she is a very good wrestler,” Ronna’s coach Scott Miller said.
Her talent on the mat led to a 7th place finish at the South Dakota state championship this weekend. She’s now the first female in the state to accomplish that feat.
Ronna knows she’ll continue to be met with complaints from the opposition about a girl competing in a male-dominated sport.
“I don’t really think much of it because I am still going to wrestle. Can’t stop me,” Ronna said.
She’s hoping to someday compete at the international level and is already getting interest from many colleges that offer women’s wrestling programs.
Several of Ronna’s state competitors declined CBS News’ request for an interview.