Dad creates team so daughters can pursue passion for wrestling

"Forget about the ponytail and look at them as wrestlers," says dad and coach Ken Corcoran.
/ Source: TODAY

Twice a week at East Islip High School, a group of more than 50 girls ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old gather for the Alpha Girls Westling Club team practice.

Their coach and founder, Ken Corcoran, is the father of two team members, Kendall, 13, and Makenna, 10. Corcoran, who was a wrestler himself, started the club five years ago after his youngest daughter, MaKenna, told him she wanted to try out wrestling.

Team Alpha started five years ago with nine girls, now they have more than 50 girls participating in their club wrestling team.TODAY

"She was probably 2 or 3 and my wife and I noticed that the only time she ever sat still was when she was either watching wrestling on TV with me or at tournaments," said Corcoran.

When his then 4-year-old daughter expressed interest in the sport, Corcoran signed her up for the boys team until his wife, Danielle Corcoran, encouraged him to start a team for girls.

Ken Corcoran said, "I used to say, 'Forget about the ponytail and look at them as wrestlers. Because there's gonna be a point where the ponytail's not gonna matter.'"TODAY

"I started wrestling on the boys team at first and then dad made a girls team and then that's when I started, like, getting more into it," said Makenna.

New York is one of 29 states that has not yet sanctioned girls wrestling as a high school sport. This can make it difficult for young girls, like Makenna, who want to pursue wrestling. They often have no option but to join a boys wrestling team.

Corcoran said, "Until they sanction girls wrestling here in New York, then we'll do what we gotta do to get the girls on a mat that want to be on a mat."

Women's wrestling continues to make big strides in the U.S. Since 2001, it has seen a 500% increase in participation. It has also been a recognized Olympic sport since 2004 with Helen Maroulis becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

There are also organizations like Wrestle Like a Girl that are fighting to make women's wrestling as established and accessible as the men's sport.

In the meantime, Makenna is happy to have her dad coaching her on the Alpha Girls Wrestling team.

"When I'm on the mat and I hear my dad on the side, I know that he loves me and he wants to get me more into the sport. It's the best feeling a kid could ever have," said Makenna.

For Corcoran, coaching wrestling is about more than just teaching them the sport. Through wrestling, he's teaching the girls valuable lessons that they can carry with them beyond the mat.

"There's nothin' wrong with being gritty. That's what gets it done on the mat. That's what gets it done in life," said Corcoran. "You gotta have a tough skin. This world is not easy. This sport builds you up."

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