By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
McNary High School senior Sam Urban got involved with wrestling because she wanted to be able to challenge her brothers, Stevin and Ajay.
Six years later, with two state championships under her belt and a third possibly in the offing, Urban has grown beyond such comparisons, especially as they relate to gender.
“The only real difference between wrestling a female and a male is their strength. Gender doesn’t really bother me anymore. Wrestling as a sport is what’s grown on me,” Urban said.
On Jan. 28, Urban collected her third consecutive regional title at the Oregon Women’s State Qualifier. She defeated both challengers and will return to the state competition later this month.
Urban started wrestling in middle school but she now works with girls in the Celtic Mat Club who are the same age she was when she started. She tries to impart the same toughness she’s developed in the past six years.
“I just like being able to tell them keep their heads up and fight with the boys and make them cry,” Urban said with a devilish smile.
While she’s beaten each of the wrestlers she’ll face for the state title, Urban is keeping close watch on the field to make sure they don’t get dramatically better in the last few weeks. While Urban has lifted the prospects for female wrestlers within the McNary program, other female wrestlers are doing the same throughout the state.
“Sometimes I expect it to be really easy when I walk out on the mat and see a female, but the women’s wrestling has been growing a lot. There’s females that walk out there and they’re pretty good,” she said.
Urban is as much a threat in the classroom as she is on the mat, said Jason Ebbs, McNary wrestling head coach.
“Sam is always challenging herself to take tough academic courses. She gets good grades and she’s got a hectic schedule. She manages school, wrestling, choir, orchestra and other family functions. Yet, she is the last person I have to worry about being here on time,” he said.
Urban is hoping to continue her wrestling career into on scholarship college at either Pacific University or Simon Fraser University. She plans to major in forensic anthropology. After watching a novice-level collegiate tournament, she feels well-prepared for the challenges college wrestling will present.
“All the guys who have wrestled with me in practices and in tournaments have helped me get there, and because of me they’ve learned to be comfortable wrestling a girl and they don’t assume only a guy could be good at it,” she said.
While there are those who disparage the mere notion of females on the high school wrestling mat, Ebbs said Urban is helping pave a path for those who follow her.
“Wrestling has proven to be a sport without any boundaries, but you would be ignoring something to not take notice when a girl walks onto the wrestling mat. Right, wrong, agree or disagree, Sam has earned her way into our program regardless. She pushes the guys and it makes those situations a lot easier for herself,” Ebbs said. “She’s never come off the mat and said the guy was tough on me, I bet it’s usually the other way around.”