Bella Arredondo and Hailee Moreno wrestle on the same high school girls team, which they described as a third the size of their boys team.
So when a teammate invited them to a free Beat the Streets Los Angeles (BTSLA) practice, they thought it’d be a good opportunity to wrestle with more girls.
One year later since joining BTSLA, Arredondo and Moreno look back and realized they got more than expected.
They were encouraged after meeting more girls who wrestle outside their high school. They discovered female mentors in ‘Coach Miya’ and ‘Coach Jackie.’ And they were selected to participate in BTSLA’s mentorship program Tomorrow’s Leaders, which they also expect to join again in 2024.
“We got a whole new perspective on wrestling because of the different coaches and different activities,” Moreno said.
As for wrestling with more girls, Arredondo added that “there’s nothing wrong in practicing with boys.”
“But when there are more [girls who] share the same experience as you do, it’s a lot easier and more comfortable. You can express yourself more,” she said.
BTSLA is one of 10 member chapters of Beat the Streets National. The program in Los Angeles, which is a grantee partner of Play Academy with Naomi Osaka, provides eight community and four afterschool programs— all for free and with a bigger vision to develop youth through wrestling.
Registered participants of BTSLA can then apply for Tomorrow’s Leaders program, which aims to develop older youth through workshops, trainings and other opportunities. It targets equal participation of girls and boys, something BTSLA has been intentional about across its entire programming, in hopes that there could be more role models like Coach Miya and Coach Jackie, whom Arredondo and Moreno look up to.
“One of the hurdles of hiring female coaches now is there isn’t a long generation of female wrestlers,” explained BTSLA Director of Development Carl Fronhofer, who formerly coached at Columbia University. “Women’s wrestling wasn’t a thing until the late 90s. It wasn’t in the Olympics until 2004, so the pool of female wrestlers is not that large. Using Tomorrow’s Leaders can help that training process and start producing more female coaches and role models.”
The leadership program birthed from the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to support their older participants in high school outside the typical physical training. It went from serving 21 youth to 68 last season, transforming into a highly anticipated program that focuses on three pillars: leadership both on and off the mat, college preparation and job readiness.
One of Arredondo and Moreno’s most memorable experiences with Tomorrow’s Leaders was traveling to Chicago over the summer on 2023 for the BTS Nationals and Duals Tournament, while also being tourists in the city. As high school students, exploring another major city was a whole new experience.
“I think my biggest learning from Tomorrow’s Leaders was just to get yourself out there and try your hardest because you never know how far you can go if you don’t try,” Arredondo said. “Especially the opportunity to go to a different state to compete and show not only everyone what you can do, but just yourself.”
For Moreno, her first season with BTSLA has motivated her to recruit more girls to wrestling and help them understand that doing an individual sport can increase girls’ self-confidence and efficacy.
“I hope other girls can join wrestling,” she explained. “They can see why wrestling is a good sport. Basketball and soccer are team sports. Wrestling, you’re by yourself on the mat. Your coaches are there to help you, but you’re the one doing everything.”
Beat the Streets Los Angeles is a grantee partner of Play Academy with Naomi Osaka, a joint venture between Naomi Osaka, Nike and Laureus Sport for Good to get more girls moving. BTSLA’s mission is to empower and transform youth through mentorship, leadership, and wrestling. Since its inception in 2012, the organization has been intentional in increasing its girls participation (currently at 30%) and female leadership through programs like Tomorrow’s Leaders (at 40% female) and hosting an annual All-Girls Tournament.