LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was essentially boredom that pushed Carley O'Neill toward wrestling. It was a family thing, and the middle schooler was tired of just watching.
"Both my older brothers wrestled, and my dad was the coach at the high school," O'Neill said. "I had to go to all the tournaments and just sit there in the stands for like 10 hours. I was like, 'If I have to go, I might as well do it instead of staying in the stands all day.'"
Her father, Mike O'Neill, grew up wrestling in Minnesota. He had gotten used to some girls wrestling but was hesitant when it was his daughter who wanted to try it. His wife, Angela O'Neill, was OK with it and reminded him that he had to treat his daughter like one of the boys.
O'Neill took to it right away, wrestling with boys through her junior year at Bullitt East High School and wrestling with girls on a club team for the last four years. She stopped wrestling with the boys this past season, taking advantage of the growing participation from girls throughout the state and the country. Wrestling is a sport that is not yet sanctioned by the KHSAA, but the state tournament has grown to more than 100 participants this year after having just 10 a few years ago. Nationally, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in girls wrestling has grown nearly 175 percent in the last decade.
O'Neill and her parents both agree that girls are "meaner" when it comes to the sport, perhaps in part because some boys may be wary of hurting girls. There is definitely no shortage of competition between the girls.
"I will be at a girls tournament and texting my boys and say, 'I'm watching a girl wrestle right now that would probably mop the mat up with you'," Mike O'Neill said. "They're just extremely aggressive. If you want to see quality wrestling and intensity, go to a girls national tournament in Fargo or Oklahoma City, and you'll see some amazing competition."
O'Neill signed with NAIA power Campbellsville University on Wednesday.
"She's local; I got to coach her on the Kentucky national team," Campbellsville coach Lee Miracle said of signing O'Neill. "It's a great family; she's a great kid. She has the potential to be a really good college wrestler and she's also smart as a whip. Those are the kind of people you want to bring in."
O'Neill has come a long way from that bored middle schooler who was tired of sitting in the stands.
"Never, back in my day when I wrestled in Minnesota or anything, would I have ever thought that I was gonna have a daughter that was the wrestler of the family," Mike O'Neill said. "It's amazing. I'm so proud of her."
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.