Woodruff Middle School eighth grader June Welch has never met a challenge that she could not conquer.
Welch, a member of the wrestling team at Woodruff Middle School, is blazing a trail as not just a female wrestler, but as the best wrestler on the squad.
Welch wrestles in the 88-pound division and is undefeated on the season, facing mostly boys every time she takes the mat. Not only has she defeated everyone who has faced her, last month she won the Spartanburg County championship in her weight class.
Woodruff wrestling coach John Harper says he is incredibly proud of Welch and how dominant of a wrestler she is, but that he is not at all surprised by her success.
“It isn’t just what June means to our program, but what any successful female wrestler means to female wrestling,” said Harper. “It’s one of the fastest growing sports for girls at the high school and collegiate level, and to have a young lady at her age in middle school come in and be serious about a sport that’s male dominated and be successful wrestling against male counterparts just shows her level of commitment and mental toughness.”
Welch wasn’t always a wrestler. When she was younger, Welch competed in Jiu Jitsu which she says helped prepare her for competitive wrestling.
“I used to do Jiu Jitsu and usually I would lose 0-2 because of the first takedown,” Welch said. “So that really got me into wrestling.”
She added, “When I was 10 or 11, I really started to get interested in wrestling.”
Welch is not just a dominant wrestler, however. She is also a star cross country runner, competing on and earning All-Region honors for the varsity cross country team in the fall. Welch also plays the piano, balancing her athletic and school schedule between lessons.
She says running cross country also gives her a competitive advantage on the wrestling mat.
“Running cross country, you have to have a lot of endurance to keep going,” said Welch. “If I have all of that when I wrestle, then I’m going to be stronger.”
In addition to her undefeated season, Welch also sets much higher goals for herself. Having competed in Nationals competition before and finishing in third place, Welch wants to go back and win the whole thing. That, and the young eighth grader has her sights set on a state championship.
“I was happy (winning the county championship) but it still wasn’t state,” she said. “I have high expectations for myself. I hope to go back to Nationals again and win first place.”
With female wrestling exploding in popularity and prominence across the country, and with several local colleges and universities such as Limestone and, more recently, Presbyterian College, launching female wrestling programs, Coach Harper says that athletes like June are the future of the sport. Harper sees June and her success as a model for other female wrestlers to follow as they grow in the sport.
“Having a daughter and a son myself, I want them both to have an opportunity to compete if that’s what they want to do,” said Harper. “Now you see many states, both collegiately and at the high school level, sanctioning female wrestling. South Carolina is moving in that direction, slowly, but I think we’re going to get there. I think the more girls like June that you see coming out and being highly successful, it is going to grow the sport.”
For now, however, Welch is happy to defeat any competitor who steps onto the mat with her. For her, the sky is the limit.
“She never stops,” added Harper. “She never stops working and never deterred.”
By Garrett Mitchell, Contributing Writer