Student athletes on the TCHS women's wrestling team pose for a group photo with their coaches. Photo courtesy of the Taylor County School District.
Taylor County is the first school district in the state of Kentucky to fully fund its women’s wrestling program.
School board members recently voted unanimously to approve stipends for a women’s head coach and assistant coach, and the program now has its own operating budget and competition schedule.
“I am beyond excited to be a part of making history for women’s wrestling in the state of Kentucky,” Spencer Adams, head wrestling coach at Taylor County High School (TCHS), said. “When I was hired here at Taylor County, one of my top priorities was to have a fully funded women’s wrestling program ... I am proud to say that we have now accomplished that goal.”
Adams said the support of the school board, superintendent, athletic director and district administrators has made it clear that providing both boys and girls with equal opportunities in wrestling is as big of a deal to the district as it is to him personally, and for the sport, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“If you look at the numbers, women’s wrestling is the fastest growing high school sport in the nation: during the 2017-2018 season, there were six states sponsoring women’s wrestling with about 14,000 participants,” he explained. “Flash forward to 2021, and we now have 32 states sponsoring the sport and nearly 30,000 participants.”
Kentucky is one of those 32 states, having a women’s state tournament sanctioned through the Kentucky Wrestling Coaches Association. However, women’s wrestling has not yet officially been sanctioned by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), though that is expected to change soon.
“I feel that women’s wrestling at the high school level will most certainly be sanctioned in the near future by the KHSAA,” Scotty Teater, president of the Kentucky Wrestling Coaches Association, said. “Taylor County has recognized this and is taking the steps to set themselves up for immediate success; they are setting the bar and leading the way for every school in the state when it comes to women's wrestling.”
Kentucky has doubled the number of women’s wrestling participants over the past two years, and as a growing number of collegiate institutions add women’s wrestling programs, Adams expects to see that trend continue.
“The University of Iowa, a member of the Big 10 intercollegiate athletic conference, has recently added a women’s wrestling program, making it the first Power 5 institution to do so,” he said, “and I believe it’s the first of many more to do so in the near future.”
Of course, women wrestlers graduating from TCHS wouldn’t need to look any further than their own backyard for the chance to wrestle at the collegiate level. Lee Miracle, head women’s wrestling coach at Campbellsville University (CU), was impressed with Adams and the district for working together to further invest in its women wrestlers, and said the commitment speaks volumes about the school district and the community.
“Having TCHS be the first fully-funded women’s wrestling program in the state is exciting news,” Miracle said, “as the girls will now have a paid head coach to focus on the growth of what is already an impressive program.”
Chris Goodin, athletic director at TCHS, felt the success of the district’s women wrestlers up to this point made funding the program fully a logical next step.
“Our numbers are growing, and these ladies are extremely competitive — we already had multiple state champions in our program before making this move,” he said, “so I’m looking forward to watching the program grow even more now.”
To date, the TCHS women’s program has found huge success with eight individual female state placers, four individual female state champions, 13 All-Americans and one female national champion.
Raleigh Abbott, a Taylor County staff member since 2015, has been selected to be head coach of the women’s wrestling team. During his time coaching wrestling at TCHS, the district had 11 individual male region champions, nine individual male state placers and one male state finalist.
Prior to coaching men’s wrestling at TCHS, he served as assistant wrestling coach at Campbellsville University (CU). While there, the wrestling team earned a Mid-South Conference team region championship, had four All-Americans, a top five team dual finish and a 5th place team national finish.
“This is the most excited I’ve been about the sport of wrestling in 27 years,” Abbott said. “Our new vision is to boost the success of our program and set a standard for women’s wrestling across the state.”
By his side will be McKayla Campbell, assistant women’s wrestling coach at TCHS, who is no stranger to forging a new path in the world of women’s wrestling.
She was the first woman to win her high school’s league tournament, then competed in the Cadet World Wrestling Championships, where she placed 5th. From there — while still in high school — she made two junior world teams, traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, France and Finland, and became a four-time All-American and two-time Fargo national champion.
In college, she became a four-time All-American and national champion within the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) nationals, with three of her four All-Americans being the national runner-up. She was the first NAIA national champion from Campbellsville University and a three-time Academic All-American. She also competed at the 2020 Olympic Team Trials.
“This new step for the program is exciting and encouraging, especially for our student athletes who now have the opportunity to be a part of a program that is trailblazing,” Campbell said. “To be able to coach the girls during this time is special, and will be an awesome experience and challenge for us to take on as a cohesive unit.”
Charles Higdon Jr., district superintendent, looks forward to seeing how the new coaches and full budget elevate the team.
“Our school district has made it a priority to invest heavily into our women's extracurricular and athletic programs, and we are honored to be the first district in Kentucky to fully fund and staff our women’s wrestling program," Higdon said. "All of our female student athletes are to be commended for their leadership and their dedication to continuous improvement each day. Lead the way, girls!”