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Photo: Skylar Slade (right), who will be a freshman on the newly-sanctioned girls team at Southeast Polk in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, won all four bouts at Super 32. This included a pin against Maggie Graham in the finals of the event in Greensboro, N.C. (Randi Yeager @IAWrestle.com photo)
By Mike Finn
Battles between siblings is nothing new in wrestling, but it is usually between brothers. In a community just southeast of Des Moines, Iowa, there are two talented wrestlers from the same family: Skylar Slade, who is a freshman on the girls team and older brother Brent “Mike,” a junior on the boys team.
The two have a good relationship, but Skylar admits her brother Mike has played a big part in her success on the mat.
That recently included winning her first Super 32 Challenge belt at the prestigious event in Greensboro, N.C., where Skylar, a freshman at Southeast Polk High School, claimed the 148-pound championship.
What made it even more special for Skylar is that she actually quit the sport at a young age and might have stayed off the mat had it not been for her brother, who split four bouts at 170 pounds in the boys Super 32 Challenge.
“I started wrestling when I was five,” said the 14-year-old Skylar. “But then I took like three years off because I thought I didn’t like it.
“But after watching my brother wrestle, I said, ‘Maybe I do miss this.’”
The odd thing is that Skylar admits she never told her brother he was the reason for her return to the mat, something she truly likes again.
“I grew to love the sport again,” she said. “It’s who I am at this point. I don’t know what I’d do without wrestling.”
Skylar, whose father also wrestled in high school before joining the army, also realizes she is competing in wrestling at a time when a record number of girls are starting the sport. In fact, she will make up part of the first-ever varsity girls program at Southeast Polk after the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced last winter that it was officially sanctioning a girls state tournament after the Iowa Wrestling Coaches/Officials Association sponsored a postseason tournament the past four years.
“I am so excited,” she said. “Last year I was watching (the event in Coralville) and really wanted to hear that it was going to be sanctioned because I would love to compete in a sanctioned tournament all four years that I’m in high school.”
Competing for a high school that has won state championships in recent years, Skylar hopes the same will be said of the girls team.
“I think the girls are developing really fast,” she said. “I think a lot of the girls are going to be trying it out this year.”
Based on Skylar’s performance at the Super 32, where the eighth-ranked wrestler (at 144) rallied to beat two ranked foes and pinned Maggie Graham in the finals, and coming off a victory over an Iowa state champ in the 15U national tournament last May, Slade is expected to shine this winter for her Rams team.
And what will fans notice most when she takes to the mat this winter?
“I think it’s my hand-fighting because that’s what we do a lot at our club,” said Skylar, who like her brother also wrestles for the Moen Wrestling Academy in Des Moines. “We do it every practice and we look to use heavy hands and movement to set up shots.”
Skylar also credits her coach T.J. Moen.
“I’ve worked with him since I was very young,” said Skylar, who admitted her coach was happy when she returned to the mat.
“He was such a big supporter for me when I came back out, as was Charlotte Bailey of FEW (Female Elite Wrestling). When I came back out, there was only guys to wrestle and I didn’t know anything about girls wrestling.”
Skylar also credits her toughness from playing rugby.
“I’m one of the strong girls on the team who gets in the scrum and I’m in a power position,” said Skylar, who has learned to share skills whether it’s on a field or mat. “I think rugby and wrestling go hand-in-hand just like football.”
Skylar said she is excited to be part of a generation of younger girls wrestling at an elite level … especially after seeing 18-year-old Amit Elor win three different world-level championships the past few months.
“Wrestling is becoming more of an option for girls and more girls have grown up around it at a younger age,” she said. “It’s such a fast-growing sport and it’s going to shoot off even faster with such great talent.
“I’m happy to be a part of this and that there are going to be so many more young girls after me who will even have a brighter future.”
And thanks to her brother, she won’t miss it.