San Marino High School Sophomore Wrestler Doesn’t Like the Attention Her Gender Brings, But Is Making A Name for Herself Nonetheless In the Male-Dominated Pursuit
If one didn’t know better, it would seem as though Disney was filming in San Marino High School’s small gym and Vanessa Hudgens is playing the feel-good role of a girl trying to earn a spot on the boys’ wrestling team, and all the trials and tribulations therein.
But the blood on Clare Garcia’s upper lip wasn’t applied by a make-up artist, the perspiration is authentic, her concern genuine, and the encouragement of her coaches is as real as it gets as the sophomore tries to figure out the human puzzle on the other side of the mat.
The third and final period doesn’t go so well for Garcia, who wipes the blood off her face as her opponent’s hand is being raised for his 6-5 victory.
“She had him,” Titan wrestling Coach Joe Gallardo says to Clare’s mother, Tammy, who – in the absence of an on-location film crew – has been taping the entire affair on her camcorder. “She had him…”
That’s right, “him.” Though a burgeoning high school girls’ wrestling program exists throughout the state, Clare has no problem doing battle with the boys. So far this season, she is undefeated in Rio Hondo League action and has pinned her last two opponents in the 106-pound weight class. Her overall record is 21-6 and she has medaled in two girls’ invitational tournaments this season.
Last year, she won the Rio Hondo League boys’ junior varsity championship and was just one victory away from qualifying for the girls’ state finals.
This year? Who knows. Sticking with the Disney motif, there is a good chance her dreams will come true.
“Clare is one of the toughest people on our team,” said Gallardo.
And that’s not faint praise. The Titans have three grapplers who have already signed Division I letters of intent and are defending CIF and Masters champions. “No matter what we do, she never complains. She has come a long way while competing against some of the elite wrestlers in the country. Clare is a great kid to coach I wish we could have more like her.”
There is no second tier of expectations: as soon as she walks into the room, Garcia is just one of the guys.
“She does everything the boys do,” Gallardo said. “There are no special favors. Nothing like that. She does everything the boys do and she doesn’t want to be viewed as ‘the girl on the team.’ No matter how tough it gets, you never hear any complaints or see any look on her face that she isn’t completely committed to the sport and the team. This is not a publicity stunt. She competes hard and it is fun to watch.”
Coach Mo Mora agrees.
“She is by far the hardest worker on the team, and our wrestlers are as hard working as they get,” said Mora, who had been providing direction during the match. “She has outstanding technique and is getting so much better. It is fun to see her improve.”
In Clare’s case, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the hand-to-hand combat tree. Tammy Garcia – a teacher at San Marino High School – has trained in Korean martial arts for a quarter century and is fluent in boxing, kickboxing, judo, taekwondo, hapkido “and an array of weapons.”
“I taught Clare and her sister [Tilly] in the backyard and got an idea of what they could do,” Tammy said.
Of Clare’s wrestling career: “I love it, it’s exciting,” Tammy Garcia told The Tribune. “It’s pushing her to do things she might not have otherwise done. Last year was a little more nerve wracking. We were not used to the wrestling schedule and the wrestling life. We were just going along with the flow. The moves were new. The level of intensity was new. It’s always weird to see your kid being tangled up in awkward positions.”
Does she harbor trepidations that her daughter is, well, fighting boys?
“From the time she started competing in martial arts, it has always been coed,” Tammy said. “That doesn’t have any impact. When she is training against the elite boys, there is always a little more concern. But she is on an elite team and is well-conditioned from the jujitsu.”