From the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973 to Annika Sorenstam teeing it up against the men on the PGA tour, the debate about females competing with males continues, usually based around the argument that men are stronger and faster, which can give them a marked advantage.
That brings us to Statesboro high wrestler Kasey Baynon, who is wrestling against boys and having plenty of success.
Last year, Baynon was the only female in Georgia to advance to the state individual competition, where she went 2-2, just missing out on placing in state.
“She is a once in a career talent,” said Bulloch Academy wrestling coach Andy Tomlin. “She trained with us a couple of years back when we had our club team. There is nobody quite like her.”
Tomlin’s Gators have won four straight state championships, but Baynon has beaten their best the past two years.
“She is as good as advertised,” Tomlin said. “In her weight class, most schools will be wrestling an eighth or ninth grader against her. With her strength and experience she will kill most of those young kids.”
Baynon comes from a wrestling family. Her father Dean wrestled when he was younger, and her older brother — also named Dean — and younger brother Aaron both wrestle as well.
“I started in gymnastics and did that until about seventh grade,” Baynon said. “But with both brothers wrestling since they were three or four, I was kind of the practice partner. I finally started doing it competitively in eighth grade.”
While her dad was supportive, Baynon said it still took him a little time to get over the fact that she was wrestling boys.
“I lost my first match and got a bloody nose,” she said. “But he saw how determined I was, and he loves watching so he got on board pretty quick.”
Statesboro High head coach Bo Viness has been with the Blue Devils for just two years, but heard a lot about Baynon even before he took the job.
“I was doing my student teaching at William James when I heard about this girl wrestling the boys at Statesboro High,” Viness said. “I thought maybe it was just people exaggerating how good she was until I came here myself and saw her wrestle with my own two eyes.”
Viness has now coached Baynon for two seasons and thought enough of her to make her captain of this year’s team.
“She is the hardest worker on the team,’’ he said. “She is invaluable to our success. She already has 30 wins this season. The school record is 44 and I expect her to easily surpass that by the end of the season.”
As for the sideshow aspect to being the only girl at most meets, Viness says that passes pretty quickly.
“Coaches come up to me all the time complimenting Kasey for her ability, as well as her sportsmanship and technique,” Viness said. “The only thing really different when Kasey wrestles is the crowd. It’s usually much bigger around her match and louder as well.’’
Baynon credits her brothers not only with getting her hooked on wrestling but with making her better at the sport as well.
“My older brother Dean was always heavier, so wrestling him helped me get stronger,” she said. “I also picked up his signature move of ‘riding legs,’ which has helped me a lot.”
“Aaron is my younger brother, and we have been closer in weight so wrestling him helped me get used to what I would face in high school.”
Aaron has never seen his sister wrestling as something different. Wrestling her from the time he was 5 years old, he has seen her grow in the sport, but isn’t surprised by her success.
“I always knew she would be good,” Aaron said. “From the first time we wrestled each other she had the drive and determination to be great. I feel like wrestling together for so many years helped me as much as it helped her.”
Baynon’s talents have been showcased nationwide as she competes in matches with other girls with her Team Georgia club based out of Valdosta.
“She placed eighth in one of the premiere events in the country up in North Dakota,” Viness said. “Most recently she finished third overall at the Super 32 held in Greensboro, North Carolina in October.”
There are only around 30 colleges in the country that have women’s wrestling, and obviously many are looking at Baynon, who has already committed to Emmanuel College in Georgia.
This year, Baynon is 30-11 and has her mind set on becoming the first girl to place in state competition in Georgia.
“I plan on making history,” said Baynon. “I really want to be the first female wrestler to place in state. They are sanctioning girls wrestling next year so this is the last year girls will be allowed to wrestle boys.”
Baynon and the Blue Devil wrestling team will host the area dual meets this Saturday beginning at 10:30 am.